For incumbent Cambridge City Councilor Sumbul Siddiqui, Cambridge’s challenges with affordable housing hit close to home. Siddiqui, who moved to Cambridge from Pakistan when she was two years old, grew up living in affordable housing with her family and attended Cambridge Public Schools through high school.
Siddiqui said her own childhood experiences give her a unique perspective among the 22 candidates running for city council this year.
“I’m the only one who’s running who has grown up in Cambridge affordable housing. I think that’s a big part, having that depth of experience,” she said.
Throughout her childhood, Siddiqui also participated in civic engagement efforts — namely co-founding the Cambridge Youth Council, a still-active platform for high school students to conduct community projects. She studied public policy as an undergraduate at Brown University and, after earning a law degree at Northwestern University, worked as an attorney at Northeast Legal Aid, providing legal services for low-income Massachusetts residents.
“I offer my lifelong experiences as a Cambridge resident; I’ve grown up in Cambridge affordable housing and I offer a unique legal background that’s committed to the public interest,” Siddiqui said. “So, you’re electing someone who knows the community and also has experience with constituent services and working on policy.”
Seeking reelection for a second term, Siddiqui said she experienced a steep learning curve throughout her first term as a Cambridge City Council member.
“It’s a huge learning curve, and I’ve learned it’s okay to kind of not know anything and to take your time researching and doing your due diligence, and that it’s okay not to have made up your mind on things right away and be open,” she said.
In her first term, Siddiqui worked on various initiatives in her first term, including working to establish the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Task Force on Tenant Displacement that plans to investigate the causes of forced displacement in Cambridge, as well as Cambridge Digs DEEP, a series of Cambridge community conversations organized with the Disruptive Equity Education Project.
Siddiqui has also sponsored legislation that focuses on establishing economic opportunities for historically marginalized groups, including introducing a provision for a two-year moratorium on opening recreational marijuana shops whose owners do not qualify as “economic empowerment” and “social equity” applicants. Though some councilors did not agree with Siddiqui’s proposal, the legislation ultimately passed 7-0 through the council.
Siddiqui said her priorities for her second term if she is reelected are primarily to implement recommendations from the Tenant Displacement task force, including working to provide stronger tenant protections. She also said it was important to ensure inclusion in public spaces across the city, including bringing halal food to schools.
Siddiqui said that she would also like to expand her work on sustainability and pedestrian and biker safety in Cambridge. Earlier this fall, a pedestrian was killed crossing the street outside a crosswalk in Harvard Square. Pedestrian safety — and calls to transition the Square into a pedestrian-only space — have become more urgent in the wake of the accident.