The presentation, dated March 11, 2019, includes slides used to present the information necessary to understand the rationale for zoning changes, the location of the zoning areas under consideration and the charts, tables and maps that help describe the situation. The proposed zoning changes, especially articles 6, 7, 8, 11 and 16, only cover changes affecting about 7% of the Town, those parts of the Town that are currently zoned R4-R7 and the B zoning districts.
The new proposal is just the most recent step in a process that reaches back almost a decade, culminating in the Master Plan (2015), the Housing Production Plan (2016) and the mixed-using zoning amendments of 2016. The Town has consistently proposed smart growth: more development along Arlington’s transit corridors to increase the tax base, stimulate local commerce, and provide more varied housing opportunities for everyone, including low and moderate income Arlingtonians. This year’s proposals are no head-long rush into change. Today’s debate is similar to the debate before Town Meeting three years ago. If anything, progress has been frustratingly slow. To realize the Master Plan’s vision of a vibrant Arlington with diverse housing types for a diverse population, we must stay the course on which we have been embarked for so long.
A study by Elise Rapoza and Michael Goodman shows that new housing construction in MA does not have an adverse affect on municipal or school budgets. And when it might, state funding covers the difference. This study contradicts the often heard argument against new housing development, especially multi-family housing, because it, the argument claims, it will have a negative fiscal impact on communities.
In the aggregate, development of new housing offers net fiscal benefit to both municipalities and the state. Additional analysis validates a second study which found that increased housing production does not predict enrollment changes in Massachusetts school districts. In the new study, a distinct minority of municipalities did incur net fiscal burdens—burdens that the net new state tax proceeds associated with the development of new housing are more than sufficient to offset.
This timely report on the question of affordable housing vs. density comes from the California Dept. of Housing & Community Development and mirrors the situation in the region surrounding Arlington MA.
Housing production has not kept up with job and household growth. The location and type of new housing does not meet the needs of many new house- holds. As a result, only one in five households can afford a typical home, overcrowding doubled in the 1990’s, and too many households pay more than they can afford for their housing.
High-density housing is affordable housing; affordable
housing is high-density housing.
Not all high density housing is affordable to low-income families.
High-density and affordable housing will cause too much traffic.
People who live in affordable housing own fewer cars and
High-density development strains public services and
Compact development offers greater efficiency in use of
public services and infrastructure.
People who live in high-density and affordable housing
won’t fit into my neighborhood.
People who need affordable housing already live and work
in your community.
Affordable housing reduces property values.
No study in California has ever shown that affordable
housing developments reduce property values.
Residents of affordable housing move too often to be stable
When rents are guaranteed to remain stable, tenants
move less often.
High-density and affordable housing undermine community
New affordable and high-density housing can always be
designed to fit into existing communities.
High-density and affordable housing increase crime.
The design and use of public spaces has a far more
significant affect on crime than density or income levels.
See an example of a “case study” of two affordable housing developments in Irvine CA, San Marcos at 64 units per acre.
San Paulo at 25 units per acre.
Both are designed to blend with nearby homes.
This letter appeared in the Boston Globe on Dec. 19th. It’s reprinted
here with permission from the author, Eugene Benson.
The Dec. 12 letter from Jo Anne Preston unfortunately repeats misinformation making the rounds in Arlington (“Arlington is a case study in grappling with rezoning“).
At April Town Meeting, the Arlington Redevelopment Board recommended a vote of no action on its warrant article that would have allowed increased density along the town’s commercial corridors in exchange for building more affordable housing (known as “incentive zoning”), when it became obvious that the article would be unlikely to gain a two-thirds vote for passage, in part because of the complexity of what was proposed.
A warrant article to allow accessory dwelling units in existing housing (“in-law apartments”) gained more than 60 percent of the vote at Town Meeting but not the two-thirds vote necessary to change zoning.
The letter writer mentioned “naturally occurring affordable apartment buildings.” The typical monthly rent for an apartment in those older buildings ranges from about $1,700 for a one-bedroom to about $2,300 for a two-bedroom, according to real estate data from CoStar. Those are not affordable rents for lower-income people. For example, a senior couple with the national average Social Security income of about $2,500 per month would spend most of their income just to pay the rent.
We need to protect the ability of people with lower incomes to withstand rent increases and gentrification. That, however, requires a different approach than hoping for naturally occurring affordable housing to be there even five years from now.
Eugene B. Benson
The writer’s views expressed here are his own, and are not offered on behalf of the Arlington Redevelopment Board, of which he is a member.
Welcome to the redesigned Equitable Arlington website! We know that Arlington values openness and diversity, a greener future, and vibrant neighborhoods and downtowns—but our current zoning is holding us back. We’re advocating for change because we recognize that the choices we make on zoning and housing policy are key to living those values. We are committed to strengthening our community through respectful dialogue and by listening to our neighbors. Our aim with this site redesign is to share accurate and relevant information to help inform such conversations.
With this redesigned site we have:
- Answered some of the most common questions that have come up in our conversations with other residents.
- Created a zoning dictionary with explanations of many of the terms that pepper zoning discussions.
- Gathered a list of resources, where you’ll find everything from short explainer videos to detailed research
- Developed a history of zoning timeline that shows how Arlington’s history fits into the larger context of government actions.
If you’re not familiar with us, I hope you’ll take a minute to read our mission and why our work matters. I also hope you’ll scroll through to meet us, see some of our smiling faces, and read in our own words why we do this work. We’re renters and homeowners, long time residents and newcomers to town who come to this work with a variety of viewpoints and lived experiences!
We believe Arlington can be a leader in the greater Boston area by the choices we make to create more equitable housing policy. Our local actions have effects that go beyond our borders. Arlington has recognized our power to make an impact and has been a regional leader on many issues.
We can channel this same energy and our values to make sure Arlington has the vibrant sustainable and equitable future we all want. To succeed, we need engaged residents who understand the issues, who can balance competing interests, and who are willing to do the necessary hard work. Please join us in building a more equitable Arlington!
It’s January 2023, and as we do every year, folks in Arlington are taking out nomination papers, gathering signatures, and strategizing on how to campaign for the town election on Saturday April 1st. The town election is where we choose members of Arlington’s governing institutions, including the Select Board (Arlington’s executive branch), the School Committee, and — most relevantly for this post — Town Meeting.
If you’re new to New England, Town Meeting is an institution you may not have heard of, but it’s basically the town’s Legislative Branch. Town Meeting consists of 12 members from each of 21 Precincts, for 252 members total. Members serve three-year terms, with one-third of the seats up for election in any year, so that each precinct elects four representatives per year (perhaps with an extra seat or two, as needed to fill vacancies). For a deeper dive, Envision Arlington’s ABC’s of Arlington Government gives a great overview of Arlington’s government structure.
As our legislative branch, town meeting’s powers and responsibilities include:
- Passing the Town’s Operating Budget, which details planned expenses for the next year.
- Approving the town’s Capital Budget, which includes vehicle and equipment purchases, playgrounds, and town facilities.
- Bylaw changes. Town meeting is the only body that can amend the towns bylaws, including ones that affect housing and commercial development.
Town Meeting is an excellent opportunity to serve your community, and to learn about how Arlington and its municipal government works. Any registered voter is eligible to run. If this sounds like an interesting prospect, I’d encourage you to run as a candidate. Here’s what you’ll need to do:
- Have a look at the town’s Information for new and Prospective Town Meeting Members.
- Contact the Town Clerk’s office to get a set of nomination papers. You’ll need to do this by 5:00 PM February 8th, 2023 at the latest.
- Gather signatures. You’ll need signatures from at least ten registered voters in your precinct to get on the ballot (it’s always good to get a few extra signatures, to be safe).
- Return your signed nomination papers to the Clerk’s office by February 10, 2023 at noon.
- Campaign! Get a map and voter list for your precinct, knock on doors, and introduce yourself. (Having a flier to distribute is also helpful.)
- Vote on Saturday April 1st, and wait for the results.
Town Meeting traditionally meets every Monday and Wednesday, from 8:00 — 11:00 pm, starting on the 4th Monday in April (which is April 24th this year), and lasting until the year’s business is concluded (typically a few weeks).
If you’d like to connect with an experienced Town Meeting Member about the logistics of campaigning, or the reality of serving at Town Meeting, please email info(AT)equitable-arlington.org and I’d be happy to make an introduction.
During the past few years, Town Meeting was our pathway to legalizing accessory dwelling units, reducing minimum parking requirements, and loosening restrictions on mixed-use development in Arlington’s business districts. Aside from being a rewarding experience, it’s a way to make a difference!
Dave Weinstock, an Arlington resident interested in affordable housing wondered about the concept of “developer math”. The math involved in planning an affordable housing projects is a problem that needs to get solved in order to have anything built here in Arlington, or anywhere. This topic comes up frequently in community discussions about the need for more housing.
Questions are raised around:
- 1- Why build so many units vs. smaller buildings
- 2- Why parking is costly and inefficient use of land
- 3- Why can’t more affordable or all affordable units be built?
- 4- The cost of subsidizing affordable units and how that may translate to higher rental rates/costs, etc.
Dave found a great Architecture and Development firm in Atlanta (Kronberg Urbanists + Architects, based in Atlanta GA) that lays out a nice presentation, includes sample proformas, and real life scenarios that may help us understand this piece of the puzzle better when evaluating any project and how developers may be incented to build certain types of projects or do certain types of work.
Here is a link, reformatted to be within this website, to the presentation, showing the varieties of choices, costs, formulas and outcomes developers consider before deciding if the project can be built: https://equitable-arlington.org/developer-math_kua_071420/
Much of our hope for more affordable housing depends on the market forces of capitalism and the willingness of developers to build for good, not just for profit. But the developers must be able to cover their costs. Many communities are highly skeptical of developers, assuming the community will get tricked, the developer will get greedy and the promised housing will be a disappointment. Trust is needed. But so is verification. We all need to learn the developer math.
What are the math factors that a developer considers before deciding to build affordable housing?
Here is a link to the original presentation. https://www.kronbergua.com/post/mr-mu-let-s-talk-about-math
As the public hearings on the zoning articles proceeded in late winter and early spring, 2019, it became clear that there was a very strong sentiment that the proposed increase in density in these designated zoning districts should result in an increase in affordable housing in Arlington. This coincided with the approved 2015 Master Plan’s stated goals:
- Encourage mixed-use development that includes affordable housing, primarily in well-established commercial areas.
- Provide a variety of housing options for a range of incomes, ages, family sizes, and needs.
- Preserve the “streetcar suburb” character of Arlington’s residential neighborhoods.
- Encourage sustainable construction and renovation of new and existing structures (see ch. 5, pg 77++ for housing section)
- The Yes on 16 report supports the citizen initiated petition resulting in Article 16 and demonstrates the tremendous impact of rapidly increasing land values on the overall affordability of property in Arlington. Building a stack of homes on one footprint is far more financially affordable than creating a single home on the same footprint of land.