Sumbul Siddiqui

Sumbul Siddiqui
2017 Candidate for Cambridge City Council

Home address:
530 Windsor Street
Cambridge, MA 02141

Contact information:
phone: 617-785-0988

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Committee to Elect Sumbul Siddiqui
530 Windsor Street
Cambridge, MA 02141

Sumbul Siddiqui is a new candidate this year.

I am a public interest attorney at a nonprofit. My family immigrated to the United States from Karachi, Pakistan when I was two.  We were fortunate to win a lottery to enter the Cambridge affordable housing system. We were placed in Rindge Towers in North Cambridge and later moved to Roosevelt Towers in East Cambridge.  I attended Cambridge Public Schools throughout my childhood.

My activism in Cambridge started at an early age when I co-founded the Cambridge Youth Council, now in its fifteenth year.  The Youth Council continues to be a platform for youth to advocate on issues that concern them.

After graduating from Cambridge Rindge and Latin, I graduated with honors from Brown University, where I studied public policy. After college, I served as an AmeriCorps fellow at New Profit, a then Cambridge-based non-profit organization dedicated to improving social mobility for children, families, and their communities. I then obtained a law degree at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law. After law school, I returned home to Cambridge.

Since then, I’ve been active in Cambridge as a current Commissioner on the Human Services Commission, as a board member of Cambridge School Volunteers, and the Cambridge Rindge and Latin Alumni Association.

I am proud to be endorsed and supported by: Our Revolution • Mass Alliance • Massachusetts Women's Political Caucus • Working Famiamilies Party • Cambridge Residents Alliance • Laborer's Is International Union of North America General Construction Local 151 • Massachusetts Voters for Animals • Plumbers & Gasfitters Local 12 • Pipefitters of Local 537 • Sheet Metal Workers Local 17 • Blue Lab of the Liberty Square Group • Democratic Socialists of America • UAW Local 2320 • Sierra Club • People For the American Way's Next Up Victory Fund

Top Priorities
My three priorities are:

  • Being a strong affordable housing advocate
    • As a lifelong resident of Cambridge who has grown up in public housing, this issue is of personal significance to me.  My foremost goal as City Councilor is to help plan for sustainable development that prioritizes socio-economic diversity and addresses displacement and social equity.
  • Promoting economic development
    • Providing financial support to small businesses and enhancing community development by advocating for affordable commercial space is a top goal.
    • I have professional experience in economic development. As a legal aid attorney to small businesses in developing communities in Lawrence and Lynn, I help small businesses facing challenging circumstances grow every day.
  • Fostering civic engagement
    • One of my primary goals as a City Councilor is to promote broader civic engagement and improve the responsiveness of Cambridge city government to every member of the community.

Housing (in general) and Affordable Housing (in particular) – priorities, plans, proposals
As someone who grew up in Cambridge public housing, and would not be here without it, I will be a strong advocate for increasing affordable housing. This is one important way to preserve the racial and socio-economic diversity that makes Cambridge such a unique place to work and live. It is essential work if we want to ensure that Cambridge is a place where longtime families and newcomers can both find affordable options.

While the Cambridge City Council recently passed an amendment to the Zoning Ordinance for Inclusionary Housing, increasing the number of affordable units required in new Cambridge developments to 20%, the challenges of increasing and diversifying our city’s housing stock remain. There are particular challenges for families who hope to put down roots here due to our dwindling family housing stock.  We must:

  • Develop a plan to preserve our expiring affordable housing
  • Establish an Office of Housing Stability to help individuals and families find and maintain stable affordable housing.
  • Implement a “condo conversion fee” to help preserve our city’s single-family homes and triple deckers, with proceeds directed specifically to the development of family-sized units through the Affordable Housing Trust.
  • Adopt a local transfer tax on real estate transactions over a certain size with proceeds earmarked for affordable housing initiatives.
  • Add an additional 5% inclusionary zoning requirement for middle income households and families, including 2 and 3 bedroom units.
  • Work on a regional strategy with other cities and incentivize small landlords to maintain rents below market so that they receive a $1,500 tax credit for each unit rented in a 2-to-4-unit building.
  • Invest in our First Time Homebuyer program so that Cambridge residents can put forward competitive offers. Home ownership is decreasing in our city, while renting is increasing. Homeownership is an important way for residents to put down roots here.
  • I also believe that we need to increase housing supply to meet our housing demand. As commercial development in Cambridge and Boston has increased, so has the demand for housing near these new workplaces. In particular, I support more construction of residential units near public transit and near our commercial centers, such as Kendall Square. I also believe we can increase the FAR in certain zoning districts, as we have done successfully in Central Square.

Economic Development and Commerce, Retail Viability and Affordability
In my experience as an attorney working for small businesses, I have seen the value that community development resources have for building and maintaining a climate of entrepreneurship. I believe it is a city’s and a councilor’s responsibility to help eliminate the structural barriers that stand in the way of entrepreneurs finding success. I envision the Community Development Department offering entrepreneurs and small businesses more traditional and non-traditional finance opportunities, like partnering with local banks to offer a low-interest loan fund for new retail and restaurant venues. I also propose a small business retention program that would offer applicants grants, loans, and technical assistance. Similar models exist in cities like Lowell.

We can also start recognizing small businesses as historic assets similar to what San Francisco does with its Legacy Business Historic Preservation. Additionally, we must address the impact of construction on small businesses and changing transit configurations, offer more community education to new business owners, and form a site finder service that provides a database of commercial space available in Cambridge.

While there are provisions for subsidized ground floor retail in new developments like Mass and Main, we should continue to support local vendors and small shops. Projects like Bow Market in Union Square, Somerville prove that smaller footprints and shorter leases are attractive to entrepreneurs, city departments, and community groups. Ultimately, I want to help support small businesses and enhance community development by advocating for affordable commercial space, and help foster stronger neighborhoods.  To do this, some of my ideas are:

  • Start a Mom and Pop Small Business Grant Program
  • Commit Cambridge to more subsidized ground floor retail in new developments.
  • Set aside a preference for local businesses in publicly owned buildings; many cities invest in real estate of their own.
  • Commit Cambridge to more subsidized ground floor retail in new developments.
  • Develop an incubation space where local entrepreneurs can pay subsidized rental rates to help jump-start their business.
  • Hold pop-ups or other special events that highlight local businesses.
  • Create the Legacy Business Registry and Preservation Fund for businesses to honor those longstanding businesses in Cambridge.
  • Subsidize memberships to Cambridge Local First for low income entrepreneurs.
  • Enforce the City’s policies against vacant storefronts and consider implementing a vacant storefront registry similar to Arlington for large property owners who would be required to pay a fee to enter the registry once their storefront becomes vacant. The fee would be waived if the owner allowed public art to be displayed while the landlord looks for a new tenant.
  • Encourage designs for commercial space that promote multiple smaller storefronts, rather than a few larger ones, and make use of unused space, such as walkdown basement space. There are great examples of this on Newbury Street and along Mass Ave. entering Harvard Square.

Income Inequality, Economic Opportunity
Income inequality is perpetuated, in part, by unequal education systems. As a City Councilor, I I would focus on the benefits of quality public education, having been a recipient of a public school education. I would advocate for more funding towards pre-K slots. Private pre-K is not free--costs are estimated at between $10,000-$30,000 per year--and waitlists are long. I would work to establish and fund free, universal, public, pre-K programs. Ultimately, some of the biggest issues facing Cambridge related to education are the exorbitant cost of early education, after-school, and childcare programs. There is insufficient public funding to meet the costs for families who want pre-school, afterschool and childcare programs. I would work to support measures that increase funding for public after-school and childcare programs so that all Cambridge families have access to them.

Significant disparities still exist among Cambridge Public School Students. Students who are economically disadvantaged, students who are African American or Latino, and students with disabilities graduate from CRLS at rates which are below the average. Over 50% of students who dropped out of CRLS in 2016 were economically disadvantaged, and over 40% were African American. This is unacceptable. We need to ensure that all students receive the resources they need to thrive. As a City Councilor, I would increase funding to childcare programs--including those for CRLS students--fund preschools, and increase our after school programs serving K-12 students. I oppose directing funding towards charter schools; we have an excellent public school system here in Cambridge that needs the funding, care and ingenuity that I believe we as a city can provide. I am also not a proponent of increasing high-stake testing.

I would also identify racial equity policies and practices, such as recruiting teachers of color, and thinking about how we can meaningfully include communities of color. I am a strong advocate for promoting involvement in extracurricular activities and eliminating barriers to participation in extracurricular activities, such as fees to participate in school trips or athletics.

I also think our school district can do a better job of creating and retaining expectations for students of color. We have to build ia culture of intolerance for lowered expectations for students of color.

I believe that it’s essential for students of color to have teachers who they can relate to, and understand where they are coming from. I support  recruiting teachers of color, and thinking about how we can meaningfully include communities of color in developing courses and strategic plans for our public schools.

Human Services Programs; Youth Programs; Senior Programs
As a current Commissioner on the Human Services Commisison, I have a strong understanding of our city’s unique programs.

I would focus my work on increasing the access of Cambridge seniors to transit, housing, and programming. I support more subsidized housing for seniors in Cambridge that is served by public transit. I believe we need to be smart about locating public parking near amenities that seniors need, such as pharmacies, community centers, grocery stores, and health care providers. We also need to make ride-hailing/ride-sharing programs easier to use and less expensive for Cambridge seniors. Finally, community-building is key for all residents, but particularly essential for seniors. We need programming that bridges the age gap, and provides senior citizens with educational, entertainment, and recreation options. I would also encourage the City to explore employment and volunteer opportunities for all residents, including seniors. It is important for people of all ages to be involved with meaningful work.

Our Youth programs can benefit from stronger internships with corporate partners in the STEAM industry. Through Cambridge School Volunteers, about 12 students are partnering with mentors at IBM.

We must ensure that our students in public housing, our students who are low income have access to the innovative economy through internships and paid employment. We can expand our Mayor’s Summer Youth Program to include opportunities with Draper, Oracle, and the Broad Institute.

Energy, Waste Reduction, Recycling, the Environment, and Public Health
We need to increase the intersectionality of Cambridge’s approach to environmental challenges and hazards, and particularly to the mitigation and adaptation to climate change. We also need to keep Cambridge committed to sustainability efforts. To do this, some of my ideas are:

  • Increase outreach regarding net zero and implement ideas of the Net Zero Task Force, making sure new municipal buildings are net zero by 2020.  In Cambridge, 80% of our climate destroying emissions come from building energy use.
  • Ensure that residents know evacuation routes in the event of a natural disaster, and are familiar with their nearest shelter. Conduct household outreach to inform residents of the importance of having a “Go Bag”, or kit of medical basic supplies and survival gear, and the importance of a communication plan, so that household members know how to connect with each other in the event of a longtime power failure or damage to cellular towers.   
  • Create swap shops
  • Offer a business trash and recycling service
  • Offer a non-resident trash and recycling service
  • Examine the San Francisco Carbon Fund and evaluate what parallels may be drawn to the context of Cambridge. San Francisco passed an ordinance establishing the San Francisco Carbon Mitigation Program to mitigate and sequester carbon by:
    • Requiring City departments to pay Carbon Impact Payments—a 13% surcharge for each airline ticket purchased for staff.
    • Mandating San Francisco Department of Environment to grant those funds to government, nonprofit or business projects that reduce or offset polluting greenhouse gas emissions in the Bay Area.
    • Funding carbon offset projects like community gardens and tree plantings and funds projects to retain storm water, cool temperatures, filter air, and more.
  • Keep closer tabs on air pollution in our city, particularly near major roads and commercial centers
  • Preserve city trees and open space for their import roles in mitigating flooding, improving residents’ mental health, taking in Carbon, providing shade, hosting wildlife, and encouraging recreation.  
  • Explore a city working group regarding cleaning up Jerry’s pit

Infrastructure: Water & Sewer; Climate-related issues and planning, Resiliency; Municipal Broadband
Vehicle emissions are a major contributor to climate change. I would promote policies that allow more people to live in urban environments near public transit to help reduce car usage and therefore vehicle emissions in Cambridge and prevent further suburban sprawl. Further, I would work to significantly increase the city’s operating and capital budgets for city energy projects in order to expand local renewable energy generation, efficiency retrofits of buildings, district heating, electric vehicle charging stations, and other climate-friendly infrastructure. 

Traffic, Parking, Transportation, Cycling and Pedestrian Issues
Maintaining bicycle and pedestrian safety is of the utmost importance in Cambridge. I am encouraged by the City’s responses to bike safety and the $2 million was set aside for Vision Zero street safety initiatives and $6 million for Inman Square improvements. I am also in favor of the following:

  • Incorporating bicycle “traffic lights," like those on Western Avenue, to other separated lanes. This could help limit cyclists’ speeds, and decrease the number of collisions with pedestrians.
  • Disseminating an information campaign at busy intersections to remind pedestrians, cyclists and drivers of their expectations to help prevent accidents.
  • Expanding bike sharing programs, like Hubway, to neighborhoods which are currently under-served by them, such as West Cambridge and Strawberry Hill.
  • Creating a light and helmet giveaway program at schools and community centers throughout the City as the high cost of bicycle accessories could scare away lower-income cyclists from investing in lights and proper helmets. This could limit the use of bicycles at night, or put bicyclists in greater danger of injury.
  • Requiring that commercial and residential developers seeking to cut their parking requirements contribute funds to a trust designed to enhance infrastructure for cyclists, pedestrians, and ride-sharing programs.

Above all, encouraging stakeholder engagement is key to ensuring the appropriate location and use of new bicycle lanes. I would ensure that CDD makes it a priority to meet with cyclists and non-cyclists alike to find optimal locations for these lanes which will actually be used and sustained. We must think about small businesses that could be adversely affected and designate loading sports in key areas when appropriate.

Civic Participation, Structure and Function of City Council and its committees
Cambridge has a population of over 110,000 people. 71,000 are registered voters, and yet only 16% voted in our last municipal election. What can we do as a city to increase turnout and improve overall civic engagement? We have successful models to point to. Both the Civic Innovation Challenge Inventory and the Participatory Budgeting process prove there is interest in community-led and championed initiatives. I believe engaging the wider community, especially people who have not historically voted, is inherently part of a councillor's job, and I am prepared to think creatively about ways to make it part of my work, if elected.

Given our numbers, the  lack of local participation should concern everyone. The vast majority of decisions that affect the lives of everyday Americans, Cantabrigians included, are made at the local level. In fact, all of the issues I've written about here are within the Council's purview. It is absolutely essential that we all pay attention and participate.

When I think about civic engagement, I also think about campaign finance reform. We must identify ways to discuss campaign finance reform openly and enact policy that can serve as a model for other municipalities across the country.

Ultimately, I want to help promote broader civic engagement and improve the responsiveness of Cambridge City government to all community members. To do this, some of my ideas are:

  • Commit Cambridge to increasing voter turnout
  • Publicly fund campaigns
  • Set a limit on the amount of money candidates can raise
  • Bring City Council meetings to residents, by hosting them around the city (Rindge Towers or at one of our many youth centers).
  • Film more hearings of city boards and commissions, so that they ,are more accessible.
  • Encourage more residents to apply for positions on city commissions and boards, and ensure that the membership of those committees are representative of our city as a whole

Arts and Public Celebrations
As an attorney who represents artists and also works with makerspaces in Massachusetts, I believe we can strengthen resources for artists who live and work in Cambridge. While Cambridge offers excellent resources, cities across Massachusetts and the United States have carved out special provisions that pertain to arts and culture uses.

I will work collaboratively with nonprofits and city departments to find ways to further support the local arts and creative economy. We can look to neighboring communities and other cities for inspiration. For example, some cities institute a City Artist residency program to integrate artists and creativity into the daily workings of a city including them in projects with parks, planning, public works, and libraries. In some cities, retailers and restaurateurs have created pop-up shops, filling vacant commercial and under-used public spaces with temporary shops in order to experiment with concepts and test new markets. “Stone Henge”, a former pop-up gallery in the old Tropical Dimensions space on Norfolk Street, is an example of the successful use of a unutilized storefront for an arts use. The City of Cambridge must also affirm its commitment to the arts by setting aside space in City-owned buildings for Cambridge's artists and innovators. Opportunities such as the Foundry Building on Rogers Street, and even the Out-of-Town News Kiosk in Harvard Square could provide much-needed, flexible space for the expression of our City's creativity. Pairing more permanent spaces with rotating festivals, such as Cambridge Open Studios and Central Flea, will help our city's creative economy to grow.

The Committee to Elect Sumbul Siddiqui is pleased to announce Ms. Siddiqui's candidacy for Cambridge City Council. Siddiqui is a native of Cambridge, a City Human Services Commissioner, and a public interest attorney.

Siddiqui is currently an attorney at Northeast Legal Aid, a non-profit legal services organization, that provides free legal services to low-income and elderly people in northeastern Massachusetts. Siddiqui leads a practice helping low-income entrepreneurs with their small business needs.

Siddiqui moved to the United States at the age of two with her parents and twin brother from Karachi, Pakistan. Her family won a lottery to enter Cambridge's affordable housing system, which placed them in Rindge Towers in North Cambridge and then in Roosevelt Towers in East Cambridge.

Siddiqui attended Cambridge Public Schools throughout her childhood, and graduated from Cambridge Rindge and Latin, where she was elected Student Body President. As a high school student, Siddiqui co-founded the Cambridge Youth Involvement Subcommittee, now the Cambridge Youth Council, currently in its fifteenth year. Siddiqui's activism in Cambridge earned her a Cambridge Peace and Justice Award.

Siddiqui earned a degree in public policy and graduated with honors from Brown University. After college, she served as an AmeriCorps fellow at New Profit, a Boston non-profit organization dedicated to improving social mobility for children, families, and their communities. Siddiqui then earned a law degree from Northwestern's Pritzker School of Law, and returned home to Cambridge after graduation.

Siddiqui is active in the Cambridge community. She serves on the boards of Cambridge School Volunteers and the Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School Alumni Association, and is a Commissioner on the Cambridge Human Services Commission.

In addition to her work as a legal aid attorney, Siddiqui is a member of the Women's Bar Association and on the Board of Directors of the South Asian Bar Association of Greater Boston. Siddiqui is proud to be a member of the National Organization of Legal Services Workers-UAW Local 2320.

Siddiqui has released the following statement:
"On Tuesday, November 7th I will be asking for your #1 vote for Cambridge City Council. I will do my best to ensure our paths cross and we have an opportunity to learn about each other. I am personally indebted to Cambridge's tremendous resources, having benefited from many of them. I am also aware of the challenges that families, friends, and our Cambridge community face. To ensure Cambridge is a place of opportunity for all of us, we need to collaborate. We must listen to each other, and draw on our entire community—the experience of our residents, students, employees, business owners and visitors, as well as the expertise of researchers at our top universities. The issues that matter to me – affordable housing , supporting small businesses, civic engagement, the sustainability of our city, and the health and safety of our neighbors, government accountability, among others – demand our best efforts. I am prepared to give mine. At a time of national uncertainty, we must become stronger locally. I am certain we can do great work together for Cambridge. We must."

CCTV candidate video (2017)

Page last updated Sunday, November 5, 2017 8:30 PM Cambridge Candidates