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City Councilors Discuss Housing Goals at Town Hall Meeting

Cambridge City Hall is located at 795 Massachusetts Ave. Three City Council members stressed the need to involve residents in housing policy discussions in a town hall meeting.
Cambridge City Hall is located at 795 Massachusetts Ave. Three City Council members stressed the need to involve residents in housing policy discussions in a town hall meeting. By Julian J. Giordano
By Jade Lozada and Laurel M. Shugart, Crimson Staff Writers

Three City Council members endorsed by housing advocacy group A Better Cambridge stressed the necessity of involving residents in discussions around housing policy in a Wednesday virtual town hall hosted by ABC.

During the event, Mayor E. Denise Simmons, and Councilors Burhan Azeem and Ayesha M. Wilson detailed their goals for combatting the housing crisis and current work being done to increase access to housing.

Simmons said the city needs to better disseminate information about housing development and policy among Cambridge residents.

“Some people have really lost their belief in democracy on the federal level and it trickles down to us,” Simmons said.

“How do we get better at reaching out to people?” Simmons said. “One — meet people where they are, wherever that might be, and then providing opportunities for people to get information.”

Wilson said that this is especially necessary when communicating information about tenant’s legal protections, which the Council recently passed a policy order to strengthen.

“If they’re facing evictions, or if they’re facing any type of other legal things that have to do with their homes, that they’re able to get the support that they need and that level of advocacy,” Wilson said, “And that’s an equity issue, right, it’s making sure that folks actually have access to those resources.”

The council members stressed the importance of looking at the housing crisis from all angles.

Azeem spoke to the work to end Cambridge’s restrictive zoning laws, which currently allows single and two-family homes across most of the city — an issue that has been contested in the Council since 2019.

“I think revisiting that and doing it in a way that is equitable, that will build housing of all types,” Azeem said, “Not only legalizing triple-deckers and having condos that are more affordable to people who are on the upper end of middle income, but also having inclusionary units built throughout the city where you can have lower and middle income folks.”

The council members also answered a question about how to better enforce existing short-term rental laws against unlisted Airbnbs.

“We have pretty stringent Airbnb regulations in place, so I don't think that the regulations are the problem,” Azeem said. “I think the enforcement is a problem.”

“What other cities have been able to do — that I would love to do here — is kind of force Airbnb to give the city a report of what the Airbnb listings are, that's the most accurate system,” Azeem added, “And through those reporting mechanisms, we have an official list of which we can measure and look over and make sure that they're all registered and doing it properly.”

Wilson stressed that housing needs to be a top priority for the Council moving forward.

“When your housing is in jeopardy, everything else in your world is in jeopardy,” Wilson said.

“So we have to understand that to tackle housing insecurities — it's a wellbeing thing,” she added. “We want to make sure that our residents in the city of Cambridge and beyond are well.”

—Staff writer Jade Lozada can be reached at jade.lozada@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Laurel M. Shugart can be reached at laurel.shugart@thecrimson.com. Follow them on X @laurelmshugart or on Threads @laurel.shugart.

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City PoliticsCambridge City CouncilCambridgeMetroHousing