Just A Start, whose affordable housing project at 52 New Street completed its design review process in January 2022, is being hailed as a “poster child” for the Affordable Housing Overlay (AHO) program, an ordinance passed by the city of Cambridge aimed at reducing the cost of building affordable housing and helping affordable housing developers to better compete on property acquisitions.
The AHO ordinance was passed in October 2020 and significantly promotes more dense affordable housing development by non-profit developers, who often get priced out by market-rate developers and are mired by zoning and project approvals. Some of the key provisions include removing off-street parking requirements – which are costly at $25,752 per surface parking space in the Boston metro area – and requiring at least 80% of rental units to be dedicated to households making up to 80 percent of Area Median Income.
The program has since been named a Top 25 Finalist for the 2022 Ivory Prize for Housing Affordability, and is being closely watched as a potential model for addressing affordable housing issues in cities nationwide.
Just A Start, a local Cambridge community development corporation, was the first affordable housing developer to win a contract under the new program with its project to transform an industrial lot into 100 climate-resilient affordable apartments for families. The group launched their community engagement process on the coUrbanize platform in January 2021, seeking feedback from local residents on what community priorities should be part of the proposal and how the site could serve the community.
Building upon the 117 comments the project received, the Just a Start team incorporated feedback into the preliminary designs for transitioning the industrial area into a residential neighborhood, including improving the pedestrian experience with more trees and improving climate resiliency with stormwater capture and solar energy.
After finalizing architectural design plans and meeting with the Cambridge Planning Board to ensure that plans were consistent with the AHO ordinance, the Just A Start team completed the design review process in January 2022, where members of the Planning Board praised it as a “poster child” for the new process – a process that used community input and ideas to refine the project and create further buy-in.
Using coUrbanize, Just A Start was able to:
- Incorporate community feedback to improve the pedestrian experience and climate resiliency
- Remain consistent with the Affordable Housing Overlay program
- Create community buy-in to become a “poster child” for the AHO ordinance
52 New Street is a project by Just A Start to create over 100 affordable apartments for residents, providing much-needed affordable housing opportunities in a tight and increasingly expensive rental market.