Alanna Marie Mallon
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Massachusetts is often famous for being the “first” state in many areas, but we are actually last in housing production, despite adding 246,000 new residents and 353,000 new jobs since 2010. If trends continue at this pace, by 2030, our state will be short 91,000 residential units, with the crisis most adversely affecting the Greater Boston area. In our City specifically, increasing supply is an important mechanism to alleviate pressure on the market. Cambridge is considered a “barbell community”, meaning that we have large populations of both very affluent and low income residents, but our middle class is in danger of disappearing. Inclusionary zoning and linkage fees alone do not ease the burden on middle class residents, and we need more supply that is targeted at middle income demographics. Construction of middle and mixed income housing should be a priority for the next City Council, and targeted approvals for small and nonprofit developers, as well as zoning reform can help us achieve this goal. Making our zoning laws more accessible will enable these developers to partner with the City, as they will no longer be losing hundreds of thousands of dollars to complicated bureaucracy, allowing them to build a greater number of affordable units.
Zoning reform also needs to be a priority because exclusionary neighborhoods should not exist in our city. Small groups of residents or neighborhood associations in more affluent areas have a disproportionate amount of power over our development process in neighborhoods throughout the City. When we shut the door on development, we are literally leaving people out in the cold. If our goal is to truly create more affordable units and ensure housing stability, we cannot be both anti-density and anti-urban sprawl - we need to be open to building in all neighborhoods to maximize the diversity and inclusivity that our City prides itself on. Supply is also not a Cambridge specific problem, it is a regional problem. We need to be working in partnership with our surrounding communities in the Greater Boston area to make sure that they are doing their fair share when it comes to supply.
Cambridge can think beyond the question of whether to develop or not by exploring alternative policies and forms of housing. Community land trusts are a great policy option that have been successfully implemented in other neighborhoods around the Greater Boston area, notably the Dudley St neighborhood in Boston. Community land trusts encourage both the small town feel of strong neighborhood ties and affordability, because the land is owned and managed by its residents and cannot be resold. Not only are community land trust models having a positive influence on housing prices, they also bring together neighbors who are invested in their communities, and some CLTs have positive environmental impacts as well: they often encourage and are even built around activities like the formation of green space and urban farming, making CLTs a solution which combats both housing affordability and food insecurity. I want to do more than just add stand-alone units of housing, I want to build communities. We can tap the potential of underutilized parts of our city not only by adding housing units, but incorporating mixed use retail, live/work space, and community space to foster welcoming neighborhoods.
The City of Cambridge can also partner with local nonprofits dedicated to housing affordability and stability. Just one town over in Somerville, they have implemented the 100 Homes program. This program aims to create 100 permanent affordable homes in its first 3 years by partnering with Somerville Community Corporation, an organization dedicated to tenants’ rights and community activism. Together with the City, SCC will be able to purchase and rehabilitate these existing units. This insures that both low and middle income families can remain in their homes and communities, because the nonprofit will act as a “benevolent owner and landlord”, keeping rents low. The City is able to keep these residences (with an emphasis on multi-unit homes) in its rental stock, so that they are not torn down by large scale developers and turned into unaffordable luxury housing.
Cambridge is an innovative City that prioritizes community input, but it’s important that we not reinvent the wheel, especially because time is of the essence for our most vulnerable. This crisis is immediate, and there are people being shut out of housing right now because of the lack of supply. Housing is a complex issue that people often try to mitigate by boiling it down into two divisive sides, and this prioritizes politics over progress. We need to be consulting more people who understand the nuance of housing policy, and can pull a variety of municipal levers to find the right solution. Our Community Development Department is staffed with experts on housing policy and have dedicated their careers to finding the best solutions. The City Council should be empowering the CDD by making sure they have adequate staff and funding to put its expertise into action. We also need to look beyond our own City, because Cambridge is not alone in this crisis. Cities across North America are struggling with both housing supply and affordability, and are even farther along in this crisis than we are. The City Council needs to be more open to exploring creative ideas used in other cities, just a few of which I’ve outlined above, and adapting them for our community.
I have experience in successfully delivering these wrap around services to our target populations. As Program Director of Food for Free, I started a program called “Market in the Park”, which weekly brings over 600 lbs of fresh produce that has been rescued from local farmers markets. Everyone from the community is invited to shop our market and take any food that they need. We started with one park last summer, Danehy Park, and partnered with the Cambridge Book Bike and the Cambridge DHSP Summer Food program because we knew families that were coming to access free lunch and free books would also be interested in picking up produce to address their family’s needs during the summer. The “Market in the Park” was so successful that this summer we partnered with Homeowners Rehab Inc. (HRI) and added two more targeted locations. HRI is a local affordable/low income housing non-profit which is interested in making food more accessible to the residents in its buildings. Like Food for Free, HRI is focused on long term solutions, not short term fixes. Their programs focus not only on housing affordability, but also stability, and it was this shared goal which made such an effective partnership. Because affordable housing and food insecurity are so closely intertwined, I saw this as a great opportunity to deliver fresh food to those most in need of it. By bringing our successful pop-up market model right into an affordable housing complex at 808/812 Memorial Drive and Trolley Square in North Cambridge, this fresh produce is now readily available to a population which otherwise might not have had access to it.
Having one successful program does not mean we can stop being thoughtful about how we implement programs intended to help our most vulnerable. As successful as our pop-up markets were, for our elderly and disabled residents, there were still needs not being met. In my current role at Food for Free, I have been in charge of expanding our home delivery program, which brings fresh produce, ingredients, and meals to the homes of elderly and disabled residents who are physically unable to access a food pantry or market. Currently, Food for Free delivers this food to over 130 residents twice a month - and the program is quickly growing!
Our kids deserve the same care and attention, and I will bring my experience working in food insecure communities to ensuring that they are provided for from day one of kindergarten until graduation from high school. My vision is for a dashboard of social services to keep track of individual student needs from housing and food to summer programs and high speed internet access at home. The City Council should be actively engaging with the Department of Human Services so that we have the adequate funding and personnel to close these gaps.
Although I was able to start the backpack program successfully as a private citizen, these needs are too important to be delivered on an ad hoc basis. If policy makers are going to make the greatest positive impact possible, we need to ensure that we are targeting the right populations, are continually evaluating the changing needs of our communities, and ensuring that Cambridge’s services are delivered - sometimes literally - to those who most need them. It should not be incumbent on our needy families to have to connect our City’s many dots, and as City Councillor, I will be make it a priority to ensure our resources are not just available, but easily accessible.
Serving as City Councillor is a full time position, and many residents ask the candidates whether they will stay on at their current jobs if elected. Although I will not stay on in my current full time role as Program Director, I do not plan on leaving Food for Free. One of the most important aspects of being an effective City Councillor is serving your community. I am lucky to have a job that allows me to interact with residents on a daily basis, whether it’s in our schools while running the Backpack Program, or in our public housing complexes making sure that nutrition needs are being met by our delivery programs. My job at Food for Free will serve as a complement to my term as City Councillor - I will continue to be consistently in the community, talking with our residents face to face about their everyday needs and concerns.
Income Inequality/Economic Opportunity
I believe this about income inequality and economic opportunity as well. Issues are tightly intertwined together, and looking only at the big picture can be overwhelming. Strategic partnerships, such as my collaboration between Food for Free, HRI, and 808/812 Memorial Drive, should be explored with this issue as well. I am proud that I have run a campaign which has been bolstered by a coalition of support from labor leaders and unions in the Greater Boston area. They possess unique knowledge about what working families need and how to best provide for them, and as City Councillor I will be actively looking for ways to engage them. The City of Cambridge should also be looking for ways in which we can actively engage our representation at the state level and aid in the Fight for $15, not just for our residents, but statewide.
Not only do we need to be thinking about income inequality in our workforce, but we need to think about how that inequality translates to our kids, and into our schools. As Education Liaison, I saw myself as an advocate for our most vulnerable kids in our budgeting process. Cambridge is lucky to have so many effective programs to ensure that our kids don’t fall behind academically during the summer, but they were not accessible to everyone. Our most at-risk elementary school kids who need these programs often came from families with limited resources, and didn’t have the money for summer programs. When I learned there was no scholarship money available, I immediately went to the school department and advocated on behalf of these families, and the School Department agreed to provide scholarships for every single student who could not afford the cost. I didn’t want this to be a temporary fix, so during the next school budgeting process, I personally made sure that these scholarships became a line item in the school budget, so that academic success no longer hinged on financial status.
Cambridge Public Schools
Education Liaison had never been a prominent or public role but my goal was to transform the way the Mayor’s office engaged with parents. For me, no project was too small, and one of my first actions was to take a more active role in the Cambridge Public School parents’ list serv. I knew this had the potential to be a powerful civic engagement tool, but until I took action, it wasn’t being utilized in that way. Public school parents knew they could depend on me because I was one - my kids were and still are attending public schools. Through this work, I became a trusted member of the community who could always be relied upon to correct misinformation and send timely, up to date communications to put parents at ease. This kind of direct communication straight from City Hall is something that I will be proud to continue as a City Councillor.
Shortly after beginning my work, I realized that I wanted to be less of an Education Liaison and more of an Education Advocate. I have always been passionate about representing our most vulnerable populations, and this role gave me the perfect opportunity to do that. What I love about Cambridge is that we are a community of people who want to actively participate in City government, and I wanted to use that energy to bring a higher level of engagement into our schools. For example, I wanted to make sure our superintendent search was a transparent and inclusive process. I coordinated between the Mayor’s Office, City Council, School Committee, parents’ groups, and individual community members to set up coffee meetings, dinners, and other open forums for anyone who wanted to meet or speak with our candidates. To further involve our community members, I helped the Mayor put together a candidate screening panel of diverse City residents, which included parents, members of nonprofits, the university community, and local business partners to give feedback on our candidates. A strong community investment in this process was vital to me, because our entire City has an interest in who is leading our schools and educating our children.
I brought the same transparency and community engagement model from the superintendent search to the school budgeting process. In order to get the best results for our kids, families, and teachers, I knew that I needed to be an advocate for them in the school budget. I spoke up to ensure that CPS teachers and staff had their own budget hearing because I felt that no one understood the needs of our schools and students better than they did. I talked to many CPS teachers and staff who said the most powerful action I took as Education Liaison was bringing their voices to the table and giving them a strong say in a budget that affected their classrooms and lives of their students.
Human Rights, Civic Unity, Diversity
Since our beginning, we’ve focused on increasing civic engagement by connecting residents with their representatives. We have brought groups to meet with Senators Warren and Markey, particularly on issues related to protecting the Affordable Care Act. We also organized a Save the ACA phone bank with our community partner Cambridge Area Stronger Together, where we provided everyone with a script and ACA facts so that they could phone friends in swing states and encourage them to reach out to their representatives.
Indivisible has also stepped up in the face of Trump’s discriminatory actions. In the aftermath of the Muslim ban, we organized a visit to a local mosque. People of all backgrounds were able to participate in the Friday prayer service followed by an open dialogue afterwards. During an uncertain time, it was a showing of solidarity with Cambridge’s Muslim community. Indivisible is committed to strengthening our coalition by collaborating with CAST and other community partners in resistance, because we need to prioritize the safety of our immigrant communities. No one who calls Cambridge or the state of Massachusetts home should have to live in fear, which is why Indivisible will be working with our coalition to lobby the state legislature in favor of passing the Safe Communities Act.
As I previously referenced, the City Council should be working with affordable housing developers to provide affordable units, especially in transit rich areas like Central Square. Development in Central Square is often presented as a dichotomous choice between no additional units or massive high rises, but there is a middle ground in promoting development that reaches the highest and best use of a space, while keeping those projects integrated into the neighborhoods they’re being built in. It’s important to me that we keep the right perspective on this issue. I am in favor of increasing the actual number of affordable units in our City, because I have seen first hand the immediate need. A five year waiting list for public or any kind of housing in this City is unacceptable, and we need to be building more units to accommodate this. Communities are made by the people in them being able to thrive because they feel stable and cared for, not by styles of architecture.
Placemaking is also an integral part of revitalizing Central Square, which is designated as the cultural district in our City. Events like Central Flea have been extremely successful this past summer, and I want to continue to capitalize on the location, unique businesses, and desire for community in the square. In order to maintain this, the City Council should take an active role in ensuring that our small businesses thrive. Like in other areas of the City, our small businesses are facing challenges like the increased use of online markets and delivery services, and Cambridge needs to prioritize working with business and property owners if we want to preserve the small town feel that we all love. We need to work in conjunction with developers to ensure that rents for stores don’t skyrocket, and exploring policies like decreased taxes for non formula businesses while shifting the higher cost burdens to more lucrative office and residential space.
This revenue would be reinvested in policies that will allow the “cultural center” components of Central Square to flourish. Other communities around Greater Boston are creating specific housing districts for artists and other “makers” in their communities so that certified artists are allowed to live and work in the same spaces at a reduced cost. We have a unique opportunity to implement this in our City, because the MIT Museum space will soon be vacant. The City Council needs to prioritize bringing culture back to our cultural center, and we have a thriving artist community that can help us make that happen, provided they are not shut out by high costs.
Traffic, Parking, Transportation
Bike and pedestrian safety can be mitigated, but only with proper planning. For example, I am a proponent of protected bike lanes, but only in the most efficient places where large amounts of people are regularly commuting from Point A to Point B. Many residents and business owners have expressed concerns about the Brattle and Cambridge Street bike lanes, which do not serve an overall goal of creating safe pathways through the City. Business owners and residents in Harvard Square expressed frustration at the Brattle St. lanes in particular, as they felt there was a lack of community process before they were constructed. This has created division among residents and business owners, and can serve as counterproductive to safety, as drivers have less room to park and open car doors, and emergency vehicles have a hard time navigating narrower streets. If we want to see protected bike lanes, or any revitalization project, done well, the City needs to prioritize communication, planning, and a robust community buy in.
We need to have a broader understanding of “safety” to include greater accessibility to our sidewalks, smart street design, and increasing incentives and the ability of our residents to use public transit. I have talked to many of our elderly and disabled residents, as well as parents with their children in strollers who say the uneven sidewalks are a barrier to safely walking in their neighborhoods. Furthermore, changing traffic patterns are adding to, not decreasing accidents. The constant weaving required to drive down Cambridge Street combined with the haphazardly placed parking spaces has not increased safety for anyone - bikers and drivers alike.Through my work in the community and municipal government, I have experience bringing people together, even when both parties stand in opposition, but this is not an issue where people must take up divisive sides. Ensuring that bikers have safe and protected pathways through the City does not have to conflict with robust public transit, or the interests of residents who drive cars out of preference or necessity. Our modes of transportation are diverse, and we need policy proposals that consider all needs and lifestyles in regards to transportation. .
In addition to encouraging biking, the City Council should be working more closely with the state legislature to improve the our public transit system. We should be saying yes to building around our transit hubs but we can’t do that if the infrastructure is not there to support these new communities. The City cannot just build more units and then assume that transit will maintain itself. Reducing the demand for cars takes a coordinated effort with our neighboring communities; as more people move into our City, we need to ensure that the MBTA is efficient and meeting a diverse set of needs. The Green Line extension project will alleviate some of the stress, but during rush hour, the Red Line is often overcrowded and does not meet the demand for the number of riders. Adding additional trains at more frequent intervals during peak hours will remedy this. We can also explore increasing the efficiency of our bus system, which has a far reach around our City. In order to keep traffic flowing, we should explore equipping our buses with sensors that keep traffic lights green when passing through intersections. The effect of both decreased commuting time and greenhouse gases would be a powerful incentive for our residents to utilize our MBTA bus system, while also providing an alternative to driving a car. As City Councillor, I think it would be particularly important to ensure the MBTA is meeting the needs of our elderly and disabled residents as well. We should be ensuring that all MBTA corridors reach senior and low income housing, and that those stops include adequate seating for people while they wait. I am also in favor of working with the City to provide additional subsidies to those already offered by state, so that Charlie Cards can be provided to those living on a fixed income.
Safety is not the only barrier to people who would choose biking over driving - income poses significant and often unrecognized challenges as well. For low income families, bikes are often a luxury that they cannot afford. I support partnering with Hubway, the company which administers our City’s bike share program, to provide low or no cost passes for families on fixed incomes, and ensure that stations are close to public housing developments. This alleviates several different issues, one of which is the storage challenges that many residents of public housing face. CHA rules strictly dictate what can and cannot be stored in yards, patios, and porches, and many of these families are forced to keep their outdoor items in their apartment living rooms. In homes where space is already scarce, this is not a sustainable solution, and it is a problem which adding a no cost option to our bike share program could easily solve.
Socio-economic divides between neighborhoods lead to a gap in the quality of streets between these neighborhoods. Low income neighborhoods are often subject to neglect, whereas more affluent neighborhoods have their concerns, such as potholes and other impediments to walking and biking, addressed in a much timelier fashion. Cambridge does not currently have a Pave Smart Program, which would collect data to see which streets are the most utilized, but also the most neglected, and allow City officials to prioritize the neglected areas. Right now, neighborhoods that receive these redesign treatments do so because residents request them, however, the City should be more proactive in providing safety resources in all communities, especially ones that may not request redesign treatments as often.
I also believe that MIT should take a greater responsibility for the housing of its graduate students. Until 2004, MIT made the commitment to house 50% of its graduate students on campus, a policy that has since been ended. Graduate students are struggling to find affordable housing, and as a result, are crowding market-rate units to bring down individual housing costs.
This also drives up the rental prices for those who are unable to rent units with large groups of people, as students do, and limits the availability of not only affordable housing but housing in general in Kendall Square, and surrounding neighborhoods. Currently, a group of graduate students are circulating a petition to require a commitment from MIT to build 1,800 units of graduate housing before allowing additional commercial development. I am in agreement with the goal of this petition, but expressed my reservations regarding the way in which the petition was written. I want an increase in the number of graduate housing units, but only after a detailed study of what the demand actually is, so that all parties can agree on a specific goal for the number of units. Although building for this graduate student housing is not on the Volpe site, their plans for commercial development at Volpe can be leveraged in conversations with the university regarding increasing the supply of graduate housing. The result of these conversations between the City, MIT, graduate students, and the working group should be to develop a memorandum of understanding about how many units are to be built and a firm time table for completion. This petition by MIT students is an example of how students and community members can work together to adopt housing policy that works for the entire Cambridge community, because both graduate students and Cambridge families are in need of affordable housing. As the largest landowner in Cambridge, MIT has the responsibility to both the City and its students, and I look forward to taking concrete action to address this issue.
The sharing of resources between our City and universities can be advantageous for both parties. Our public school students are lucky to be surrounded by world class academics and experts in their fields, and I want to work on making those relationships more accessible and long term on both sides. I would love to see our public school students taking part in summer programs at these universities to keep them on track academically, provide them with mentorship opportunities, and explore fields and topics of study that they may not have been previously exposed to in a K-12 curriculum. As an experienced advocate for public school students as Education Liaison, I will be able to begin the dialogue that will bring these programs to fruition.
These shared resources don’t always have to be complicated policies; it’s often the little things that the City Council can do for its residents that make the most difference. For example, there are developments around Lesley University where residents have expressed concerns regarding the lack of parking. In that same area, Lesley has parking lots that go unused overnight, which could be the perfect place for residents in those developments to park their cars. It’s simple solutions like this that require only the opening of a dialogue between the City Council, affordable housing developers, and our universities.
Four years ago, as an active parent in my children's public elementary school, I became aware that many of my children's classmates were hungry. For me, this realization became a call to action and I quickly created a small pilot of the Cambridge Weekend Backpack Program, which sends food home with low income students each and every weekend. When I started the program, we served 15 students in one school. Today the program sends meals home with close to 500 students and their siblings every week, and is available in all 16 schools in the district. The program addresses the needs of food insecure students, but also serves to connect their families to other vital resources that are available in our community. This work was so important to me that I left the private sector to focus on it full time, and for the last four years I have passionately dedicated my life to working on issues of food insecurity in Cambridge.
Reflecting on why I felt compelled to help these vulnerable students, I'd like to share my own story. I grew up in Brockton, Massachusetts, and my parents were 19 years old when I was born, just babies themselves. Although my father worked for the Brockton DPW picking up trash and my mother worked the night shift as a nurse's assistant at Brockton Hospital, they were not financially equipped to have a baby. My mother did not have access to healthcare during her pregnancy, and after I was born, our family relied on state provided healthcare and federal surplus food subsidies to stay afloat. These social safety net programs allowed our family to survive.
When I was 18 months old, a group of 20 recent Brown University graduates decided to move to Brockton with the hope of reinvigorating the city. In what is now known as "The Brockton Project", they started a newspaper, opened a food co-op, built affordable housing and new parks, and supported progressive candidates for Brockton City Council. Through their work, these students befriended my parents, who began to see the transformative powers of education as a pathway out of poverty. Both my parents started taking classes at community colleges, and my father received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from UMass Amherst when I was 12, and my mother graduated with an MBA from Simmons College as a non-traditional student when I was in high school. I have always known that these students helped change the trajectory of my family's path, and I know because of my family's experience that one person, or a small group of people, can help change people's lives for the better. That is why I am running for City Council: to continue changing people's lives for the better here in my own community.
I saw this transformative power in action when I was working in the Mayor's Office, as the Education Liaison to Mayor David Maher. That role was an opportunity for me to step outside of my own Cambridge experience, and the ability to see all of Cambridge has helped me understand the importance of looking at complex problems from a multitude of lenses. Although Cambridge has a great many resources, there are many in our community who are facing significant challenges and whose needs are not being met. I feel strongly that the most urgent issues facing us as a community are the lack of affordable housing, the urgent need for a Central Square revitalization, a strong commitment to bike and pedestrian safety, and wrap around services for our at risk students and their families to ensure their academic success.
People often ask me "what makes YOU different from the other candidates?" My answer is this: I have a proven track record of taking concrete action that produces results. I have earned the trust of the Cambridge community, and I have the special skill of bringing people together to connect those who are working on the same problem from different angles. I have identified gaps in city services and worked quickly and collaboratively to address them, particularly for our most at risk populations. I truly hope to serve as your City Councilor and bring these skills to City Hall to benefit all of the residents of Cambridge.
I was also inspired by something President Obama said in his farewell address: "If you see something needs fixing, lace up your shoes, grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself. Show up. Dive in. Persevere."
I am ready to show up, dive in and persevere. I hope you will join me.
Alanna Mallon Announces Run For City Council
|Page last updated Wednesday, September 20, 2017 9:28 PM||Cambridge Candidates|