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Advocates Call for New Cambridge City Manager to Prioritize Lowering Housing Costs

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Local affordable housing advocates are calling for Cambridge to select a city manager who will prioritize lowering the city’s high cost of living as the search to replace Louis A. DePasquale begins.

The selection process for a new Cambridge city manager kicked off last month, and the city is expected to select its next top official in May. The Cambridge City Council has pledged to seek public input in the process via town hall meetings, an online discussion forum, and diverse focus groups.

Cambridge follows a council-manager form of government in which the city manager — not the mayor — is the most powerful public official. While the city council is tasked with establishing the city’s goals and policies, the city manager runs the day-to-day operations of the government and controls its budget.

On Feb. 13, A Better Cambridge — a local affordable housing organization — released a letter calling for the next city manager to prioritize transparency, data-driven feedback, and affordable housing issues.

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In the letter, the group said the city manager has a big sway over housing issues as the overseer of the municipal budget.

“We’ve always been glad to see money spent on housing in a whole bunch of different buckets,” Rebecca “Becca” M. Schofield, co-chair of A Better Cambridge, said in an interview. “But I think we are really hopeful that, with the next city manager, we’ll be able to ramp up that spending and see some innovative solutions within the budget to current housing issues.”

In the letter, the group also called for the city manager to “embrace the possibilities of a growing and changing Cambridge,” instead of following the “status quo.”

“The next City Manager must be prepared to take bold leadership in guiding both medium-term and long-term urban plans that are responsive to our housing crisis and include real steps towards ending it,” the letter said. “Candidates should not see the job of City Manager simply as an ‘administrative caretaker’ role, merely preserving and protecting the status quo.”

Just a Start — another local affordable housing organization — calls for a similar vision.

“I think you’d want a manager that can continue to support and lead the very strong staff that currently exists in the city. At the same time, I think the city is at a point, and has the opportunity to do some bold things,” Carl Nagy-Koechlin, executive director of Just a Start, said in an interview.

The organizations also advocate for a city manager who will prioritize diversity in policy making decisions.

Suzanne P. Blier, a Harvard professor who runs the Harvard Square Neighborhood Association, said the city’s next top official should prioritize incorporating data-driven feedback.

“We want a city manager who’s going to hire highly qualified staff and to look at data in a thoughtful way as one is making decisions,” Blier said.

Some advocates lauded the City Council’s efforts to incorporate a wide range of stakeholder feedback in the selection process.

“I have been impressed with the process,” Blier said. “I think that the vice mayor, who is leading it, has done a very good job — and others who were in the mayor’s office — in reaching out to many people.”

—Staff writer Julia J. Hynek can be reached at juliahynek@college.harvard.edu.


—Staff writer Kaleigh M. Kuddar can be reached at kaleighkuddar@college.harvard.edu.

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