City Council to vote on "linkage fee" for affordable housing

The Cambridge City Council will vote on a long-awaited update to the affordable housing “linkage fee" at the next regular meeting on Monday, September 28.

Councillors are expected to approve an increase to the fee — but the debate over when and how much to raise the fee says a lot about the larger debate over development and displacement in Cambridge.

The linkage fee is a small, one-time tax on large, new commercial buildings; all of the proceeds come from big developers and go directly to the city's affordable housing trust fund.

Cambridge implemented the linkage program in 1988, but the city council has not updated the fee in more than fifteen years — this, despite Section 11.203.1 of the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance, which calls on the council to review and recalculate the fee every three (3) years, "based on a consideration of current economic trends" such as development activity, commercial rents per square foot, and housing costs, etc.

In 2002, noted housing economist Barry Bluestone recommended that the linkage fee be more than doubled (from $3.28/sq. ft. to $7.83/sq. ft.), but his proposal failed to make it out of an ordinance committee chaired by Councillor David Maher. Since that time, millions of dollars have been "left on the table," and our efforts to update the linkage fee have been delayed.

All city councillors now agree the linkage fee should be increased. However, there are two very different views on how much developers should be required to contribute for affordable housing.

Analysis from MIT says that the linkage fee would need to be set to $24.30/sq. ft. to compensate for the upward pressure on the Cambridge housing market that is caused by high-end commercial development.

But at next week's council meeting, members of the "Unity Slate" are expected to vote to give big developers a 50% discount by setting the fee at $12/sq. ft. Under this proposal, the fee would also rise $1/year for the next three years — but it would still come up well short of the actual impact of pending commericial development.

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Connolly Launches Council Campaign by Calling for a Plan to Keep Cambridge Affordable for All Residents

CAMBRIDGE — Cambridge activist and attorney Mike Connolly launched his campaign for the City Council last week with a kickoff event at the Lilypad in Inman Square.

Speaking before a packed crowd of friends and supporters, Connolly called on the City of Cambridge to begin work on an affordable housing plan. “I am running to help lead the call for a comprehensive housing plan that keeps Cambridge affordable, sustainable, and livable for all residents,” Connolly said.

“As city councillor, I will work to preserve Cambridge’s progressive identity as a city that is open, accessible, and welcoming to people of all backgrounds and income-levels,” Connolly added.

Drawing on his personal experience of being raised by a single-mother in a government-subsidized public housing project, Connolly said that government has to play a more active role in keeping the city affordable, and he touted his experience working in City Hall and as the organizer of 2013’s net zero emissions petition campaign as examples of his own commitment to public service and the community.

The event was attended by more than 75 Cambridge residents, including City Councillors Dennis Carlone and Nadeem Mazen.

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