Petition FAQ

Restore Cambridge Housing Zoning Petition

Frequently Asked Questions
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What goal am I trying to achieve?

My goal is to build consensus around what I think should be an easy win, addressing how our current zoning laws make it difficult if not impossible to build more homes like we already have. Many existing homes are technically non-compliant such that a similar building couldn't be built across the street on an identical lot. Even the home where I live couldn't be built today on the same plot of land.


My petition attempts to fix this by changing the zoning to more closely match what already exists with the goal of creating more housing. I'm not trying to make a statement about how tall I think Cambridge should be, how many people should live here, or if all neighborhoods should be treated the same. This is what I think could be the next step in a larger plan for addressing our city’s housing concerns.

Does this abolish single family zones?

Yes, with a footnote. My plan enables townhouses in what are currently single-family zones, and enables multi-families as well as townhouses in what are currently duplex zones. My plan continues to treat these parts of Cambridge differently not because they should be, but because they already are. My plan is intended to be mostly restorative not reformative. There are already townhouses or similar structures in West Cambridge, so we should allow more. Additionally, townhouses are effectively horizontal multi-families while being architecturally similar to single-families.

Will this lead to larger single families?

No. My increases in allowed size (FAR) and height explicitly exclude single family homes and duplexes. However, there are previsions to address existing non-conforming single-family homes, which are in Article 8 for the interested.

What’s with the bulk/imaginary planes?

They’re similar to what’s commonly known as step-backs. It’s what gave a lot of NYC’s mid 20th-century skyscrapers their iconic look, although that style of architecture has fallen out of favor. Depending on the details, you can also use them to define a de facto mansard roof. For an example of a mansard roof, see 212 Hampshire Street. I added this as a requirement in certain zones in exchange for additional height as a way to make said height more tolerable from the street while not meaningfully decreasing living space. 

Why are there no provisions for inclusionary housing?

I considered this for a while, but ultimately decided to not add additional provisions for Inclusionary Housing in this petition. The Inclusionary program is tricky both from a legal and financial perspective. It’s also somewhat transactional, while my petition is intended to be restorative.


I probably could be convinced to move from this position. Though, it’s probably too late for this petition as at this point a substantial change like that would require a resubmission. It’s possible having one inclusionary unit as an additional requirement for getting the extra height and size could be added to section 5.31.4 seeing as it’s added by this petition. Anyone have a “not legal advice” legal opinion on whether that can be added? Email me.

Will this lower rents?

I can’t make that promise. What I can say is that most developers aren’t charities and they’re not going to build homes at a loss. The price of land isn’t going down, so the number of units on each lot has to go up. That will lower the construction cost per unit which will make slowing rent increases at least a possibility.

Will this fight displacement?

In theory it’s possible. I want it to, but I can’t say with any certainly that it will. And if it does, it will be indirect. A slow-down in the increase of rent will stem-displacement, but as I stated before I can’t promise that this will happen. Rent increases certainly aren’t going to slow down with our current zoning.


The fact is that there are very few ways to directly attack displacement. One of them is rent-stabilization, but that’s way out of scope for this petition. Some would say that the Inclusionary and Affordable programs help fight displacement. I personally am of the opinion that these programs help with affordability but not displacement. They are very beneficial programs that I’m glad we have and believe we should fund more. However, in my mind anything that requires people to move from their current home doesn’t directly tackle displacement.

How does this interact with the Affordable Housing Overlay (AHO)?

I’ve crafted this petition to make sure that the AHO continues to have an edge over market rate housing. I did make one amendment to the text of the AHO, but it amounts to legal book keeping. My proposal increases the base zoning FAR, so the FAR threshold for the AHO also has to increase to keep its effective bounds the same. In law, this is sometimes called “Mutatis mutandis,” which translates to, “All necessary changes having been made”. Do know that I’m not a lawyer and that I could be using that phrase wrong.


My provision for additional height and size on certain streets does trigger the aforementioned threshold, and I’m ok with this. It increases the effectiveness of the AHO ensuring that it continues to have an edge over market rate housing in those targeted areas.

Where does this petition fit in with the proposed AHO amendments?

I see this petition as being complimentary to the proposed amendments, not as a substitution. I’d like to see both passed, the AHO first followed by this one.