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City Council Candidates Propose Strategies for Supporting Low-Income Residents at Virtual Forum

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Cambridge City Council candidates discussed strategies for federal funding allocation, employment opportunities, and city-wide safety in a virtual forum Thursday evening.

Co-hosted by the Cambridge Community Foundation, Cambridge's My Brother’s Keeper, and the Cambridge Nonprofit Coalition, the forum is the latest opportunity for incumbents and challenger candidates to make their case to voters. Samuel M. Gebru, the director of policy and public affairs at the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts, moderated the event.

Several candidates shared strategies to democratize access to housing and employment to bridge the gap between poorer and wealthier subsets of the city’s population. Cambridge’s top quintile earns an average annual salary of $343,000, while its bottom quintile earns an average of $13,000, per a report released by the Cambridge Community Foundation in April.

Second time candidate Burhan Azeem said he believes it is important that the City allocate Covid-19 federal funding to residents undergoing difficult transitions, such as those facing evictions. He added that those residents have less representation in local government, while arguing that wealthier residents receive a disproportionate degree of visibility.

Challenger Joe McGuirk noted the rapid loss of low and middle-income residents from Cambridge, citing mobile housing vouchers as a means of preserving socioeconomic diversity in the city.

“Part of my whole campaign is that we’re trying to retain lower- middle-income residents,” he said. “One idea is municipal mobile housing vouchers that will apply to people who make 60 percent or less of the median income who don’t receive support from other means.”

Patricia M. “Patty” Nolan ’80 said the council should pressure businesses to provide employment opportunities for city residents, as opposed to outsourcing talent from other towns.

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“What we should do is have accountable measures for every single employer who comes into town for having a ladder of opportunity for people who work there — a very set and specific percentage and expectation for them to hire people from Cambridge,” she said.

The last candidate forum on Sept. 27 tackled affordable housing — an issue that dominated the 2019 council election.

Noting the “tense” climate surrounding law enforcement in the United States, Gebru also asked candidates about their approaches to public safety in Cambridge.

Frantz Pierre, another City Council candidate, said the City should better integrate police officers into local neighborhoods to improve trust.

“It brings a bad taste in certain communities when police only show up when things are going wrong,” Pierre said. “If the person that’s getting called on is uncomfortable, and the police showing up is uncomfortable, then it’s going to be a disaster.”

Incumbent Councilor Quinton Y. Zondervan said his vision for the future of city-wide public safety aligns with the Holistic Emergency Alternative Response Team — a proposal for non-police, resident-driven emergency response model developed by Cambridge residents and civic leaders.

“What they’re proposing is to have community members who are trained to respond to non-violent situations,” he said. “But they’re not police officers, they’re not social workers — they are trained community members who can respond to those situations, and provide trusted help without people being afraid to call 911 because they might get pulled into the carceral system.”

City Council elections for the nine seats up for grabs will take place on Nov. 2.

—Staff writer Isabella B. Cho can be reached at isabella.cho@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @izbcho.

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