Protecting Economic Diversity in Cambridge

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The biggest problem facing Cambridge today is the threat upon the economic diversity of residents. In the upcoming term, the elected city councilors will have the responsibility of ensuring that this is a livable and enjoyable city for all residents, regardless of their socioeconomic status.

With fast-pace growth in population especially of high-income individuals, our density is quickly increasing, and we need to ensure that we not only have the infrastructure to support that growth, but also the systems in place to support our middle-class families. We need to support and build mixed-income housing options, ensure high-quality educational opportunities, support owner-operated businesses and safe streets for pedestrians and bikers, and improve our public transportation system to support more foot traffic.

Protecting economic diversity in Cambridge needs to come from the mindset of not only building more affordable housing, but cultivating affordable and thriving neighborhoods. The goal of the City Council should be improving the quality of life for all constituents, regardless of their identity, socioeconomic status, where they are from, or how long they have been here. If it’s their home, we will welcome and protect them.

#VoteNadya #NadyaforCambridge

Donate to my campaign to support my progressive platform at www.votenadya.com.

Fighting for the Magic of Harvard Square

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The ambiance, history, high foot traffic, and youthful energy in Harvard Square make it a highly sought-after hub of retail and general business potential. This high-demand leads to one of the key challenges that Harvard Square continues to face: the constant threat of upzoning whether for residential or commercial use, and against owner-operated or locally-owned stores due to heightening costs of real estate. We are facing a risk of watching taller buildings filled with offices move in, big brand name stores appear at the ground level that almost all students cannot afford and do not add to the uniqueness of Harvard Square, and a direction towards too many banks and even cell companies appearing when such retailers become the only ones who can afford real estate in the area. 

Harvard is special because it offers a unique experience you cannot find anywhere else -- that is why tens of thousands of people visit each day from all over the world to experience its magic. Unique memories are created with each visit to places like Pinocchio's or Felipe’s, and of course, at the historic Algiers Coffee House (closed August 30th, which will be sorely missed). This localism is something that needs to be protected in Harvard Square, and the rise of chain stores without the demand from residents and students especially (perhaps the largest customer base) is something that City Council should continue to push back upon where appropriate. If elected, I will push City Council, in its proceedings on zoning and general planning for real estate development in Harvard Square, to prioritize the protection and support of growth for owner-operated businesses and the historic essence of the area.

With potential developments in Harvard Square, in such close proximity to thousands of students, who will be the strongest consumer base for these stores, it is important that we engage their participation in defining the future of Harvard Square -- prioritizing protecting local businesses and maintaining the high foot traffic and in essence, the magic, of Harvard Square. In a city where over 35% of the demographic is under the age of 25 and over 34% of the over-18 population is enrolled in the universities, we have not had authentic student or youth representation on council before. I will be a voice for a whole demographic that hasn’t had a seat at the table before. 

Learn more about my platform on real estate developments and civic engagement, and donate at votenadya.com. 

#VoteNadya #NadyaforCambridge

Newsletter #8

Human Rights

LGBTQ+ Community

I strongly support pride within the community because all people should feel powerful, confident, and accepted in our community. I will protect transgender students by pushing for more gender-inclusive bathrooms and spaces and prevent discrimination towards the LGBTQ+ community through educational programs.


Gender Equality

Instead of reinventing a Cambridge-specific project, I will implement and improve existing programs that fight for gender equity, especially in the workplace. Cambridge has created the “Early Adopters of Equal Pay Initiative,” in which local businesses are agreeing to fair and equal pay for all of their employees. I aim to increase awareness of this initiative by reaching out to more companies in Cambridge to be in compliance with the state law. Through strengthening private-public initiatives, I want to help eliminate the gender wage gap and remove barriers to women’s advancement.
 

Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault

As a survivor of domestic violence and sexual assault, Nadya is passionate about addressing the issue. Though over 10 million individuals affected each year, it is an issue often hides in the shadows of private life. I support the work of the Cambridge Women’s Center and hope to collaborate in the future. I also aim to provide emergency shelter beds for domestic violence survivors and introduce free sexual violence education in more schools and youth settings. 

Domestic violence and sexual assault are issues that affect all gender identities and I will fight towards combating these forms of abuse from all angles. By putting together task forces of different entities (local NGOs, government agencies, representatives from The Domestic and Gender-Based Violence Prevention Initiative), we can improve our approach on a case-by-case basis and address the issue for all Cantabrigians.

 

Intern Spotlight

Sara Wang is one of our outstanding Interns from abroad. Even though she is not living in Cambridge, she believes in the positive impact Nadya will have on Cambridge and the necessity for young people to work together in local politics. 

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I'm Sara Wang and I grew up in Chino Hills, California! I'm also known for having an affinity for public speaking, politics, and caramel frappes. You'll probably catch me in congressional or parliamentary debate, taking Polaroid pictures, or just relaxing at the beach!

Donations now done through ActBlue!
With your help, our grassroots campaign continues to grow everyday! 
Every vote, every dollar counts.

Newsletter #7

Thank You to Our Amazing Interns and Volunteers!

We have knocked on over 5,000 doors and that momentum was made possible by our amazing summer interns and volunteer base. My campaign pushes forward a precedent on the civic engagement of young people and grassroots strategies. We welcome anyone interested in getting involved, so please feel free to reach out

Housing

University students increase the competition for affordable housing, creating difficulties for many Cambridge families. I plan to form a taskforce composed of representatives from the universities, the City Council, and the Community Development Department to increase the amount of university affiliated housing available for graduate students.


Innovation

We have more than 46,490 students in Cambridge, some of whom are attending some of the most well-endowed educational institutions in our world. Furthermore, 32% of Cambridge residents are under 25 years-old. Students in Cambridge are excelling in a multitude of disciplines, engaging in meaningful service, and doing cutting-edge research, all of which can be contributed to bettering our community.

The institutions have the resources to work with urban planning and policy but lack the encouragement and incentive to invest back into their local community. I hope to bridge the divide that exists between the government, community, and universities to pave the way for innovations that benefit us all.


Civic Engagement

As a passionate advocate for youth voice and a student at Harvard College, I can increase involvement in existing service activities and facilitate new collaborations between the institutions and the local community, engaging the leadership and efforts of young people.

I see a need to invest in efforts for community development, especially when it comes to creating opportunities for Cambridge youth. I aim to expand existing mentorship, tutoring, and afterschool programs offered by the universities in Cambridge. 

Students will genuinely care about community issues, especially around new developments involving Harvard and Kendall Square. Students uniting has made a difference, as seen in the past year's HUDS strike, and has shown that students can really help push forward progress.

Newsletter #6

Sustainable Living and Environment

Safe Streets and Sustainable Forms of Transportation

Being a historic, college town with narrow streets, Cambridge has a tremendous amount of bikers. I support investing in safer streets for those who ride bikes by adding more designated lanes and speed bumps where appropriate. This goal also applies to making the streets safer for those who walk, use strollers, and take advantage of public transportation. 

Improving Waste Management

I am devoted to improving our waste management programs. In response to the composting pilot study, I would like to propose making exceptions for small-volume waste producers by treating them like households, creating more waste drop-off centers, and consolidating the varying methods different waste producers take.
 

Our Parks and Overall Access to Nature

I am committed to maintaining our local parks to invite play and exploration. I have already begun reaching out to representatives and strategists at Parks and Recreation departments in Cambridge and other cities to learn from them and brainstorm innovative ways to encourage people to go outside and enjoy the outdoors. Public parks build community and provide people with places to collaborate, interact, and engage with one another.

Cambridge City Dance Party

Newsletter #5

Official Campaign Kickoff Video

It was incredibly inspiring to see the community come together at the campaign kickoff. Connecting with other Cantabrigians motivates our team to keep up our level of energy and enthusiasm, especially at the grassroots level.

In addition to canvassing door-to-door, we have been collecting signatures for my nomination papers. As of yesterday, July 10th, my name is officially on the ballot!

The best way to show your support is by getting involved and making a contribution. Even if you donate just $10, you are joining a community and contributing to a movement. Donations help give voice to the perspectives of our residents who need it most.

Newsletter #4

Happy 4th of July!

Thank you to everyone who was able to join us for the campaign kickoff!

I also want to give a special thank you to all of you that have made a donation to help us continue building momentum and making this all possible.

Donations are now VENMO COMPATIBLE! 
Please fill out the form below before contributing via Venmo @votenadya.

With your help, our grassroots campaign continues to grow everyday! 
Every vote, every dollar counts.

Campaign Kickoff Overview

It was absolutely empowering to see the community come together around common goals for our city. The room was filled with everyone from local community leaders to former councillors and candidates, but also the faces of a new group of young voters – a demographic that we need to engage in our local elections.

In the past three weeks our team has knocked on over 3,000 doors to spread word about our platform. With this level of energy, enthusiasm, and support at the grassroots level, the one thing we need is the resources to keep this momentum going and growing. With rank-choice voting, every contribution AND every vote truly matters.

Come November 7th, I’ll be asking for your #1 vote, but the best way you can support now is by getting involved and making a contribution of up to $1000. Even if you donate just $10, you are joining a community and contributing to a movement. Donations give voice to the perspectives of our residents who need it most.

Cambridge Constituents

Cambridge Constituents is a photography campaign that shares the voices of our constituents. The interactions we have with other Cantabrigians directly influence our policy platform.

“An issue in Cambridge is the way institutions like Harvard or MIT force their way into residential neighborhoods and displace longstanding Cambridge families, there should be more boundaries for institutions in terms of construction and expansion.” - Owen Gallant (CRLS Graduate)

“An issue in Cambridge is the way institutions like Harvard or MIT force their way into residential neighborhoods and displace longstanding Cambridge families, there should be more boundaries for institutions in terms of construction and expansion.” - Owen Gallant (CRLS Graduate)

Response: With developments, like Volpe, I believe the institutions in Cambridge need to maintain open communication with residents and businesses in the area. In addition to displacing longstanding residencies, construction also disrupts everyday transportation in streets. Being a historic, college town with narrow streets, Cambridge has a tremendous amount of bikers. I support investing in safer streets for those who ride bikes by adding more designated lanes and speed bumps where appropriate. This goal also applies to making the streets safer and more accessible for those who walk, need parking, and take public transportation.

Newsletter #3

One of the core goals of my platform is to advance educational equity. I believe it is a fundamental right to have access to education; that is why I am committed to eliminating barriers in accessing quality education. Cambridge is wealthier than the average city in America, but is also home to pockets of poverty. In our public schools, roughly 45% of Cambridge public school students can be considered low-income. I want to work towards making sure that financial instability does not hinder educational, extracurricular, and social experiences in schools. This goal trickles into combatting any sort of racial or gender inequality as well.

I am committed to

  • Making pre-kindergarten programs more accessible
  • Improving existing out-of-school opportunities and creating new ones
  • Starting a city-wide book exchange
  • Implementing more technology into schools
  • Providing job trainings and other post high-school opportunities
  • Supporting underprivileged students inside AND outside of the classroom

 

Cambridge Constituents

Cambridge Constituents is a photography campaign that aims to share the voices and inputs of our constituents. The interactions we have with other Cantabrigians directly influence how we develop our policy platform.

 

"As a student who didn't have a laptop throughout high school, I found myself going out of my way or struggling to complete simple homework. I definitely would have benefited from having a computer or laptop at home. I think there should be more funding for students who don't have the finances to buy laptops and other expensive materials (i.e. graphing calculators). The high school staff could be more accepting and helpful when it comes to students who don't have the resources that other more privileged students have. Despite Cambridge's wealth of diversity, we often forget most families live in the middle class genre and even below the poverty line. As a society of conscious and accepting individuals, we should be more empathetic when it comes to the Achievement Gap/Wealth Gap especially considering there's such a huge discrepancy right here in Cambridge." - Karalynn (CRLS Graduate '16)

"As a student who didn't have a laptop throughout high school, I found myself going out of my way or struggling to complete simple homework. I definitely would have benefited from having a computer or laptop at home. I think there should be more funding for students who don't have the finances to buy laptops and other expensive materials (i.e. graphing calculators). The high school staff could be more accepting and helpful when it comes to students who don't have the resources that other more privileged students have. Despite Cambridge's wealth of diversity, we often forget most families live in the middle class genre and even below the poverty line. As a society of conscious and accepting individuals, we should be more empathetic when it comes to the Achievement Gap/Wealth Gap especially considering there's such a huge discrepancy right here in Cambridge." - Karalynn (CRLS Graduate '16)

My Response

Every student deserves to be equipped with the skills and resources necessary to thrive in the 21st Century; this begins with equitable access to computers. I support the “one-to-one” technology initiative that provides Chromebook laptops to 9th and 10th grade classrooms. The total cost, $20,000, is equivalent to one full-time staff member. Therefore, I believe in working with the School Committee Budget to invest in more technology. From early development to graduation day, it is vital for the children in our community to receive equal opportunities throughout all the schools.

It is unfair to hold students to the same standard if some lack access to technology at home. Technology not only aids students in learning and developing useful skills but also eases instruction for teachers. By providing the same resources, such as books, technology, and other tools, to all students, we can work towards leading children of all backgrounds to success.

Newsletter #2

One of the many reasons that this city is unique is that it is home to not just one university, but five. As a result, the universities play a large role in influencing the rest of the city. The housing issues in Cambridge stem partially from the universities bringing in so many new residents, and the continued development of real estate contributes to perpetuating the wealth inequality and gentrification here in Cambridge. I hope to explore how university relations can play a part in affecting positive change around the housing crisis we face today. I am especially committed to housing in Cambridge because it is a widespread issue and I have personally experienced housing instability in the past.
 

I am committed to

  • Communicating with residents and developers to assess the status and impact of the recent increase for inclusionary zoning, with hopes of enforcing the 20% regulation 

  • Pushing universities to house more graduate students to decrease competition for affordable housing 

  • Advocating for both low-income AND middle-income housing 

Please feel free to reach out with any comments, feedback, or ideas.

 

Cambridge Constituents

Cambridge Constituents is a photography campaign that aims to share the voices and input of our constituents, which are directly informing the development of my policy platform. This campaign is about amplifying the voices of constituents in order to craft potential solutions and actions. With each story told, we will reflect, research, and respond. By listening directly to our residents, we can improve legislation and the community as a whole.

“These communities are often not interacting with one another (if at all), and as a result the issues of the latter group (those in poverty or close to it) are not prioritized (if even taken into account) by those who are pushing changes and policy (typically upper-middle class/or higher class parents, particularly in the sphere of rindge and public schools in Cambridge)”-Julian Cohen (CRLS Graduate '16)

My Response

I understand that students increase the competition for affordable housing. Therefore, I aim to push the universities to house more graduate students so they do not increase the competition for Cambridge families looking into affordable housing. As a university student, I am in the unique position to collaborate with institutions to find the most adequate solution for all.


Because income inequality exists in dramatic disparities, Cambridge’s middle class is shrinking and poverty is increasing, while affordable housing is becoming harder to get. I realize that affordable housing has not only affected low-income families but also those who are above that income threshold and are being pushed out. As new luxury housing is developed and inclusionary zoning is increased, middle-income housing is decreasing. I will be an advocate for both low and middle-income housing to ensure that all types of residents are represented on the council.

Newsletter #1

On behalf of my campaign team, I graciously thank you for your support and interest in learning more and staying updated. I am running for Cambridge City Council because I believe that I bring forth a new perspective, passion, and energy, all of which are needed to push forward progress on issues that Cambridge continues to face.

Our emails to you wil not simply be updates on our campaign, but a deeper look into the issues and solutions that I care about, that I believe truly deserve the City Council's attention. We want to keep everyone informed and updated as we maneuver through the campaign trail. We believe that transparency and listening to constituents will enable us to best serve the needs of our community. Open communication also helps keep us accountable. 

We hope our newsletters will be informative, facilitate conversation, and provoke action to better the community. Especially in today's political climate and time of national uncertainty, we believe it is more important than ever to unite people at a local level.

This past week, I released the first full look into my policy platform, which can be found at here. Our platform addresses human rights, equitable access to education, housing affordability, university relations, environmental sustainability, and government accountability.

Our campaign team has been working hard to craft and prepare a plan that stresses civic engagement and youth empowerment, and we welcome anyone interested to get involved! We are ready to hit the campaign trail and we hope you join us, please explore our website to get involved and make a contribution.

Thank you so much,
Nadya

Reconciling Poverty and Privilege in My Life, and Cambridge

I want to start by saying, now, that I’m one of the lucky - the privileged - 15% of people in Cambridge that live in University housing. But more importantly, I want to address the unfathomable amount of residents that are financially insecure - 40% of people. That’s more people in total than those that can comfortably afford a place to live. Cambridge defines a comfortable “living affordability threshold” as $92,000 for a family of four. There are over 32,000 people here that are eligible for housing assistance -- just under a third of all residents. Furthermore, there are about 45,000 people that are financially insecure and feel, in varying degrees, the constant pressure, the unease, the unsettling, and the disruptive forces of housing instability.

Housing and financial instability are listed as the top two issues affecting health in the 2013 Cambridge Community Health Assessment. Both issues not only affect physical health but also greatly affect an individual’s emotional well-being. Having to balance the trade off between quality of life and fundamental necessities (like food, hygiene, and overall security) can lead to unnecessary stress, which can be seriously detrimental for one's overall well-being. While trying to juggle both school, social life, family, and possibly work, the added stress of wondering about whether or not you can afford food, where you are going to sleep that night, taking care of your siblings while your parents are working, or how you’re going to find time to finish your homework on time can be overwhelming, especially for a young person.

Unfortunately, this sort of experience is far too common amongst Cambridge youth. Although Cambridge’s median household income ($75,909) is above that of Massachusetts as a whole, over 50% of Cambridge public school students are living at or below the poverty line. The median market price of a single family home is over 1.25 million dollars and this is only increasing with time. In the ten years between 2004 and 2014, the figures for homes and condos increased by 50-100%. Furthermore, Cambridge has higher rates of family poverty in comparison to Massachusetts across the board, even with its higher median income. The income inequality gap in Cambridge is larger than the majority of the entire state. There also exists a growing service gap between affordable housing for low-income households, and very few options for middle-income households.

The evident problem of homelessness and the need for more affordable housing options in Cambridge is much more serious than most people realize. Although there is a cultural association of homelessness with people living in the streets and homeless shelters, this is often the extreme. Homelessness can take many forms. More often than not, homelessness can be living in one’s car, couch-surfing, living in transitional housing, or living with friends with no permanent address. While the form of homelessness of the unsheltered population is much more visible and unfortunate, the less visible, unacknowledged population of homeless individuals and families in shelters, transitional housing, or “doubled up” with friends and family, is much greater in number. It is important to acknowledge the ever-changing forms of poverty and homelessness -- especially as the prevalence of poverty for families in Cambridge rises.

I experienced a degree of what it feels like to face housing and financial instability when I was fifteen-years-old. My own experience navigating poverty is why I keep these issues closest to my heart. My family’s experience of being displaced from our home and living with friends for several months is what catalyzed my passion and commitment to public service today.

In January of 2013, the spring of my freshman year of high school, my mother parted ways with her job. We salvaged every dollar as we grappled with an extreme drop in our family’s income. My mother had to strategize on affording groceries each week, and we cut done on driving because we had to save any possible expense. I knew my family had experienced elements of poverty prior to this experience, but this was a whole new level of instability. All throughout my middle school years, my sisters and I attended some of the most well-endowed public schools, while we were also enrolled in the free and reduced lunch program and living well under the poverty line. My high school experience was even more contradictory. I attended Catlin Gabel on a scholarship (one of the most expensive and academically rigorous private schools in the area) while my family struggled to make ends meet.

By April of that year, my mother decided that we could not afford to continue living in our home. So, she moved us out of our home and rented it out. For eight months, until my mother got us back on our feet, we were displaced from our home and lived with our good friends. My commute to and from school jumped to nearly two hours on public transportation every day.

Every morning, I had to leave around 5:30 am to get to school in time for morning choir and often wouldn’t get home until after dinner was served. My grades suffered, and so did my mental and physical health. I was constantly anxious and barely sleeping, feeling hopeless, emotionally conflicted, and frustrated that I could not to do anything to help my family.

Through conversing with the homeless women I would regularly see on my way to school, who were in much worse living situations than I was, I began to understand how blessed my family was, even with our housing and financial instability. What facing poverty reaffirmed for me was that all I had and truly needed was my mother, my two sisters, and our friends who became family. My mother had to (and continues to) sacrifice and fight for my sisters and me. Regardless of our poverty, my mother worked to ensure that we maintained our strong family bond, upheld our family values, and that stellar educational opportunities were available for us.

My family really values education. My maternal grandparents immigrated here from Taiwan for higher education and for a better life for their kids. I am the daughter of two Ivy-educated individuals. My mother attended Harvard College, where I am currently a freshman, and I was born during her first year at Columbia Law School. Although we commonly associate the brand names of these schools and higher education with financial success, that is not always the case. In fact, a recent report on Income Insecurity in Cambridge found that 84% of survey respondents had a college degree or higher, but even with an overwhelmingly high level of education and annual income level, 18.5% of those surveyed answered that they struggled with paying monthly expenses on time.

My mother went on to work in corporate law in New York City, where I was born and raised -- saving nothing and spending her earnings on basic living expenses, education, and opportunities to immerse her kids in culture. I was a busy child, with daily schedules booked to the rim with music and dance classes. She left the corporate world when I was five-years-old and my youngest sister was born -- wanting to be a present mother for her three kids and to protect them from an abusive father.

When I was nine-years-old, my parents separated and my mother moved my sisters and I out to the West Coast. For the next nine years of my life, my mother would continue to prioritize our safety and education, understanding the potential that we had if provided with the right resources — and for that, I am eternally grateful.

During our time of displacement, though we lacked a formal address and home, my sisters and I did have a place to sleep. We had friends who welcomed us into their homes and made us family. We were much more fortunate than many who are not surrounded by so many willing, helping hands. Many do sleep on the streets, in shelters, and without a bed. Our housing instability was a situation that opened my eyes to the different faces of poverty and homelessness.

My family moved back into our own home at the end of December 2013. The turning point for me -- both in my mindset and pushing me to take action -- really came sometime three months later when I spent a night in a women’s shelter on my own, trying to hide bruises on my face. At the age of sixteen, I found myself in an abusive relationship and felt that I would burden my mother after realizing how much she had sacrificed to protect our family. In reflecting on conversations that I had with others in much worse living situations than I was that night, I came to realize that I had a choice to be safe and had opportunities to move forward, and I had to be maximizing the potential of having that privilege to give back.

My understanding of how blessed I am with the family support and values that I have, the resources that have been made available to me through education and employment, in combination with my personal understanding of what it feels like to feel homeless and experience financial instability, have all cultivated my passion and commitment to service.

Within a few months, in June of 2014, I founded an organization that would become PERIOD -- to serve a need I had never thought about before, which I learned about through conversations with homeless women during my family’s time of displacement: menstruation. The success of PERIOD has been made possible by the education and networking opportunities I have had throughout my teenage years. Additionally, my mother, who had recently started teaching nonprofit management, was able to be my key advisor and founding board president as I started the nonprofit organization.

I serve because it is my way of reconciling the privilege I have to be where I am today. I recognize that I have had many more advantages and opportunities than most and I want to use these advantages to bring others success, stability, and equality.

I am writing this piece first and foremost to bring attention to how urgent and serious the housing crisis that Cambridge faces is today, but also to be fully transparent on my background and why I am so passionate about affordable housing. I stand as a candidate that embodies and advocates for full transparency and accountability. With past press relations for my work with PERIOD, I have had experiences where sound bites are taken from my interviews to paint a “homeless to Harvard” narrative. We certainly did not have a permanent home and at the time, but I also feel the importance of clarifying the blessings we had through it all in each other.

Cambridge needs to build more affordable housing options, prioritizing that over luxury real estate development, and also work to make the transition out of qualifying for affordable housing more seamless in order to incentivize those living in poverty to strive towards increasing their economic well-being. While permanent housing is a priority in strategizing how to end homelessness, it is critical that there are support services available to help homeless people find those homes and stay in them.

In Cambridge, we barely have enough beds for those who need them. On an average night, at least 90% of beds are being used by individuals or families in emergency shelters, transitional housing, or permanent supportive housing respectively. According to the 2015 Annual Homeless Assessment Report, 50% of families in Cambridge that end up in an emergency homeless shelter stayed there for longer than six months. While there are short and long-term services available for homeless individuals, the resources available are far from meeting the needs of Cambridge’s homeless population. According to a recent Income Insecurity Report, Cambridge lacks over 100 Permanent Supportive Housing Units to meet the need. Last year, over 500 people nightly were homeless, and over 20% of them were families who lived in emergency shelters or transitional housing. The issue doesn’t seem to be slowing down, as last year was an increase in homelessness compared to years prior.

The worst part about this crisis is that there is so much more that we could be doing in terms of offering solutions to fight these issues. We are definitely making exciting progress, but there are still many resources that can be utilized to combat the housing and poverty crisis that we face today.  We just celebrated jumping from a zoning inclusion requirement of 11.5% to 20% of newly developed residential units having to be affordable housing options, and now it is time to ensure that it will be enforced. We need to move forward with other strategies — like opening up more available housing units to Cambridge residents that need them. A projected 48.8% of people in Cambridge report that they are unable to save money at the end of each month, limiting the chances of moving out of poverty. Cambridge needs to prioritize working on ways to support workers and families in general to make the transition into financial security more feasible.

Who we are and what we are passionate about stem from our experiences and values, and I want to hear from Cambridge residents about what issues that you find most pressing and any ideas you have for potential solutions. As I came to learn, poverty is a spectrum and I want to hear about your experiences. I push myself to be transparent and am always committed to being honest about what I have been through, and I hope to engage in authentic and personal conversations with as many Cantabrigians as I can. Please do not hesitate to reach out and engage. I am running to represent you and would love any input!

Why I am Running for Cambridge City Council at 19-years-old

Photo Credit: Olivie Nie Photography

Photo Credit: Olivie Nie Photography

I’m Nadya Okamoto. I’m 19-years-old and a first-year student at Harvard College, and I am also running for Cambridge City Council.

I am running for:

  1. Young people in Cambridge to have direct representation and trust in their local government;

  2. For families struggling to find adequate and stable housing;

  3. To maximize the potential of how local universities can contribute to Cambridge;

  4. For equitable opportunities in education and employment for all;

  5. and Progress towards a more environmentally-friendly city.

Although I am “young” as some people might say, I believe that with my background in grassroots organizing, activism, and community capacity building -- and my personal connection to the key issues many underserved Cantabrigians face every day, I can bring a much-needed, complementary perspective to City Council.

Whether it be fighting for affordable housing, educational equity, worker’s rights, or our environment, I’ll be right there with Cambridge acting as a megaphone for all residents.

I serve and advocate because I find it to be my way of reconciling the privilege that I have in holding access to opportunities in education and advancement and having the freedom to use my voice for good. I have always been someone excited about engaging with peers, leading by empowering others to be leaders themselves and making an impact in any capacity.

My passion for public service and acting as an advocate formed during my family’s experience with losing our own home during my freshman to sophomore year of high school. During this time, my commute to school changed from twelve minutes to two hours on multiple bus lines. I began to recognize familiar faces on my route, and befriend some fellow riders and individuals who camped out at the bus stops in downtown.

I became fascinated by other people’s stories of resilience in the face of adversity. This was mostly because it helped to distract my mind from my own personal situation, reminded me of how fortunate I was, and pushed me to keep pursuing my education. Throughout that point in my life, I was consistently keeping a journal. Almost every night before going to sleep, I would write in my journal about my day and record the stories of many of the homeless women I met.

One weekend, I spent a night at a shelter on my own to hide bruises that I endured from an abusive relationship I was in at the time. That night, I realized in looking back at my journal, that I noted menstrual hygiene as a need shockingly often. I had collected an anthology of stories of women using toilet paper, stolen pillowcases, and most commonly brown paper grocery bags, to maintain their periods. I wrote down quotes from the women of how scared they were to ask for menstrual hygiene products because they were embarrassed by their periods, but also how poor menstrual hygiene caused them so much discomfort. I noted how nervous they seemed to chat with me about their periods as if it was a forbidden topic.

That night in the shelter was a huge turning point for me to realize how fortunate I was to have access to educational opportunities and still have confidence in my potential, and I knew I had to do something to act upon this unaddressed natural need of menstrual hygiene. I talked to shelters and nonprofits and found that none of the nonprofits I talked to provided menstrual hygiene products continuously, either due to a lack of resources or a lack of displayed need. Thus, there was this never-ending cycle of organizations not prioritizing menstrual hygiene and women in need being too afraid to advocate for it--leaving periods completely unaddressed.

In the spring of my sophomore year of high school, when my family saved up enough for us to move back into our two-bedroom apartment, I founded PERIOD. What started as a personal project to use savings to buy and hand out menstrual hygiene products on my way to school, with the help of an amazing and driven youth team of peers, is now an exponentially growing organization that has addressed over 78,000 periods and registered over 67 campus chapters.

I tell this story because it is my driving force, the root of why I do what I do. I have had experiences where I have felt voiceless, powerless, often only finding temporary worth in what I thought my body had to offer...so when I finally acknowledged that I did have a voice, and I saw how by partnering up with other young people, activating my curiosity to learn and lead, I was not going to stop using my voice.

I do what I do because my purpose is to love and build community while uplifting others and reconcile the privilege, voice, and passion that I have to serve and make a difference wherever I am and with whatever I have.

I am running for Cambridge City Council because this beautiful, diverse, and uniquely progressive city is facing issues that I feel personally connected to and very passionate about -- from the affordable housing crisis we are facing, the growing demographics of homeless people, education inequity and an extreme wealth gap pushing forward gentrification, and with a plethora of opportunities for improvement in the field of environmentally-conscious living, I want to be a megaphone for Cambridge residents in our local government and beyond.

Cambridge has an amazing opportunity to truly be the city that leads by example when it comes to progress in general, one that other cities look up to, and I believe that with my goals for community development, equitable opportunities, and university relations, I can help push that goal strides forward. This place is quite literally a place of new beginnings, setting new precedents, and pushing forward progress. It is a place where people travel from all over the world to, to learn, and innovate, and cultivate skills that will make them more effective global citizens. So, let’s celebrate our differences. It doesn’t matter where we come from, how we identify, or what we have, what matters is what we do now as current residents of this city.

This is a competitive race -- with at least 25 candidates for 9 positions, and 8 incumbents running. We’re going up against some people who have been in the same career for 30 years or more. I understand that it is easy to look at me and my team, and think that we don’t have what it takes -- maybe acknowledge the potential that we have to really make a significant difference here, but think that we might be “too young.”

Well, here’s my response. When you think about the skills that are really needed to be a city council person — interacting with the public, organizing at a grassroots levels, community building, visionary thinking, the ability to represent, defend, listen to constituents, and advocate for people — I think that those are all things that my track record shows that I can do and that I love to do.

Young is not a term that can define my capability. I think that people may question my commitment but if I put my mind and heart to something, and I really believe in it, I’m not going to let it down and I’m going to prioritize it. To other young people, when someone tells you that you are too young to do something, push them on it -- what do they really mean? Because, technically, saying you are too young is really just saying that you were born in a more recent year than them. Are they saying that they think you haven’t had enough experience? That they don’t trust your judgment or your capabilities? The year you are born in should not define your potential and what you can do now. I am running right now because I believe that I have something special and unique to offer this city, and perspectives and ideas to push forward progress and offer solutions, and I believe that I have the skills and experience to do this strongly. I may be young, but I started my career in public service much earlier than most. I am also not in this alone, the team behind this campaign and the youth voices we are hoping to amplify are unique to our campaign.

One of the biggest questions my campaign will be challenged with is how I can be a strong city councilor if I am not originally from here, but I remind people that Cambridge is a city of people coming from all over the world and we are trying to push forward this message that you can be involved and make a difference wherever you are, whoever you are, and with whatever you have. We want people, regardless of the fact of when they moved here, to be involved. And I think that that can start with us. We are eager to learn, I am committed to meeting with residents whenever possible, traveling around and listening to others, and learning all I can along with my team, on how we can best serve this community.

There’s a lot of work to be done, and we are excited to get started. I keep going back to a key statistic that keeps me up at night fueled by motivation to work towards solutions to the issues Cambridge currently faces: the fact that in this city, the median market price of a single-family home is over $1.25 million. But over 45% of students in public schools are at or below the poverty line, and we are still facing an affordable housing crisis.

First and foremost, this campaign is about Cambridge -- serving the community of Cambridge residents, and offering solutions to guide progress and equity. This campaign is ALSO about setting a precedent for young people to engage in local politics, or in initiatives of leadership where they can affect change at a local or national level.

There is a clear lack of representation in our country’s elected roles of young people, women, and people of color. Less than 20% of our elected government positions are held by women, even though we make up at least 50% of the population, and that needs to change, same goes for young people and people of color.

Young people have so much influence, more than we could ever know. We just witnessed an unprecedented and shocking presidential election, which could have very easily been swayed by more youth participation. If you think about it, politics is all a game to push forward ideas and offered solutions that people or parties think will better the future for the next generation. Politicians are literally working in the field of systemic change to make a lasting impact. So, if they’re working on a better future, then shouldn’t our future leaders have a say in that?

There should not be this disconnect that currently exists of a future being created for a generation that isn’t being as involved with such discussions. This is all of our futures, but more so, as young people, our future. And I think that if those in elected office truly believe in the goal of improving the future, then we should have full support as young people to be more involved and have a seat at the table.

The turning point of my committing to run for office after trying to encourage many of my other peers to go for it, was when I was asked why I wasn’t running, and I realized that the only answer that I could think of was “I am too young, and I will just lose because of that.” That’s when I knew, that I was sort of being a hypocrite because I believe down to my core that young people can do it -- we can do it -- and we deserve it. That was when I re-committed to not only speaking my truth but also living it.

I think that not many young people, women, or people of color always see elected office as an opportunity. We live in a country where when you think of a politician, you think of an old white man. When you’re young and you’re asked what you want to be when you grow up, you answer that question based off of what you know is possible for you, and we need to work towards encouraging a narrative that anything is possible, and your answer to that question should not be limited by current lack of representation in fields of interest.

But I would also just say: it’s scary. I am so excited but to be honest, I am absolutely terrified. My experiences, my values, and who I am is going to be questioned from now until November, more than I would have ever expected.

When we live in a country where when you’re a young woman, you’re under a lot of pressure already with your body -- what you look like, how you speak, how you can interact on an intellectual level -- and you put all of that under the spotlight to be examined and possibly publicly declared inadequate, that is a lot of pressure. But to me, it’s worth it -- and right now, more than ever before, we need to be pushing forward diversity in our government.

Even if we don’t win, the fact that we’re running a campaign that’s empowering people of all identities is really meaningful to me. We want to send out this message that we as young people and mostly people of color, can run a well thought out, beautiful campaign that’s worth talking about and worth listening to. Even the idea that we’re running and bringing attention to the fact that young people should be in politics, and have a right to be in politics, that matters.

I want to end with an invitation: to come work with our campaign for Cambridge City Council -- this is one part of a larger movement that I hope you join us on. I want to hear your ideas, your feedback, your interests -- so please reach out. We can do this, and our chances are only elevated when we work together.

Right now, and always, is our time. Our community -- whether that be in terms of the Cambridge community or the global community -- needs us. So let’s use our voices and whatever we have to make the most of the time and potential that we have. Thank you.