Data in a Mass Housing Partnership report shows how far behind the Boston metropolitan area has fallen in meeting the housing needs of its citizens. There are four primary categories for measuring the inadequacies: 1. Availability, 2. Affordability, 3. L0cation and Mobility and 4. Equitability. See the full report for more data and examples. Two slides are shown below.
A portion of Envision Arlington’s town day booth was designed to spark a community conversation about housing. Envision set up a display with six poster boards, each representing a housing-related topic. Participants were given three dots and asked to place them on the topics they felt were most important. There were also pens and post-it notes on hand to capture additional comments. This post is a summary of the results. You could think of it as a straw-poll or temperature check on the opinions of town day attendees.
Social Justice Issues
Aiming for a diverse population by income and race; and being vigilant about identifying and neutralizing barriers to this goal.
197 dots, plus a post-it note that reads “Increasing housing while preserving open space” (with three dots).
Providing for different lifestyles: empty nesters, single millenials, young parents, families, walkable neighborhoods.
149 dots and four post-it notes:
- No more new 5-story buildings with no setbacks. Ugly. (3 dots)
- Why must we maintain our high carbon footprint with single family homes and cars?
- I want to live in a wofati (eco building) (Woodland Oehler Freak-Cheap Annualized Thermal Intertia). Not so legal, one day the norm. Thank you Arlington.
- Connect to transit. Less single family housing with dedicated parking.
Affordable housing from subsidies, from construction of smaller units, or from building more housing to reduce the bidding price on current Arlington homes.
308 dots, with 10 post-it notes
- We don’t need more housing. People need to be able to afford to stay in their homes.
- Get Arlington out from the clutches of real estate lobby. (1 dot)
- Wrong categories. Includes affordable housing and development which displaces low and moderate income housing
- Restrictions on teardowns of small homes
- Keep older apartment buildings. They are cheap and affordable.
- Rent control and oversight. “I can only afford to stay because I live in a place that is not secure and in disrepair.”
- Rent control. Please reinstate so that rent is affordable.
- “Affordable” subsidized housing invades your privacy. Every year need all bank stubs, 401(k), like a criminal.
- Build more housing. Build more duplexes, triplexes, etc. Upzone neighborhoods. More transit corridors. Renew calls for a red line stop. Build up the downtown to encourage more density and housing in the same buildings as businesses. More housing + transit = a better society.
- Protect neighborhoods
This was clearly the topic that drew the most response. Arlington housing is expensive.
Maximizing Flexibility of Home Space
Providing for aging parents or childcare providers with a place in your home or getting help paying the mortgage by having a rentable space.
81 dots, and three post-it notes:
- Change zoning to allow accessory dwelling apartments (aka ADUs, granny flats, in-law apartments) (1 dot)
- Want nearby widowed mom to live in own house.
- Accessible rentals, not up 3 flights of stairs.
Doing more with Existing Resources
Examining current Arlington Housing Authority, Housing Corporation of Arlington, and aging apartment buildings for addressing new housing needs.
143 dots, and five post-it notes:
- Fix transportation infrastructure. Peope can live farther out and still get to work. (4 dots)
- Extend red line to Arlington center and heights. (7 dots)
- None of the above. Keep taxes low. (1 dot)
- Accessible for aging residents. Age in place.
- Do something about empty store fronts.
Setting a ten-year goal for new housing
Determining what Arlington’s housing goals should be, and setting about following through on the necessary zoning and incentives to get what we want.
119 dots, and three sticky notes:
- Why is America low-density? Why is this country slave to the auto? More housing near transit!
- Who is “we”?
- There is too much housing density now. Need business area to attract business.
As noted earlier, the cost of housing seemed to be the main issue of concern. This is understandable: housing prices in Arlington (and the region in general) have been on an escalator ride up since about 2000 or so. That’s led to our current high cost of housing, and also to a form of gradual gentrification. When housing is more expensive than it was last year, a new resident in town has to make more money (or be willing to spend more on housing) than last year’s new resident.
I see at least two broad responses to this: one is to keep the status quo, perhaps returning to the inexpensive housing of decades past. The other is for more multi-family housing, and more transit-oriented development. It will be interesting to see how these dynamics play out in the future.
There’s also recognition of the importance of older “naturally affordable” apartment buildings. Arlington was very pro-growth in the 1950s and 1960s; that’s fortunate, because it allowed these apartments to be built in the first place. On the downside, we haven’t done a good job of allowing new construction into the pipeline during recent decades. Buildings depreciate, so a new building is worth more than one that’s ten years old, which is worth more than one that’s twenty years old, and so on. At some point, the old apartments are likely to be refurbished/upgraded, and they’ll become more expensive as a result.
This is only the beginning of the conversation, but at least we’re getting it going.
Minneapolis is the most recent governmental entity to disrupt the almost 110 year old idea of local zoning in America by overriding single family zoning. Zoning was developed in the the early 1900’s to control property rights and, in part, to limit access to housing by race. These early laws were upheld by the courts in the 1930’s and the use of zoning to control private property for the interests of the majority became common. Houston Texas did not adopt zoning, an outlier in the nation.
But recently governments are rethinking zoning in light of evidence of exclusionary practices including racism and inadequate supplies of affordable housing. In July Oregon’s legislature voted to essentially ban single family zoning in the state.
Most recently, in the end of July, Minneapolis became the first city this century to remove single family zoning, allowing two family housing units to enter any single family zone as of right. According to the Bloomberg News article, the city took action to remedy the untenable price increases do to single family homes taking a disproportionate amount of city land and services. They hope a wider range of housing, and more housing, will reduce housing costs in the future.
Read the full story from Bloomberg News.
Jennifer Susse authored this letter on January 20, 2020. Ms. Susse is a member of the Arlington School Committee and a Town Meeting Member. She closely follows the costs and demographic trends of school enrollment and of Town finances.
I write in support of efforts to increase housing in Arlington, both as a resident and as a member of the School Committee. I support these efforts not in spite of their potential effects on our schools, but because of their potential effects on both schools and town.
I have often spoken to the community about our rapid enrollment growth — over 2,000 students added in the last 25 years, 60 percent of those in the last 10 years. Because of these large enrollment increases the Arlington Public Schools have had to add capacity, which the town has generously supported. So how can I be in favor of adding more housing to Arlington, and thus potentially adding even more students to our already stressed school facilities?
I will get to the capacity issue in a bit, but first I want to point out that in the last 30 years Arlington has lost both economic and generational diversity. The story about the loss of economic diversity is well known; the loss of generational diversity less so.
Between 1990 and 2010, the percentage of residents between 20 and 34 dropped from 28 percent to 17 percent. During that same period, the population over 65 dropped from 18 percent to 16 percent. What replaced these demographic groups were primarily residents between the ages of 35 and 54 and 0 and 14. In other words, mostly families with school-aged children. The loss of both types of diversity weakens the fabric of our community. However, the loss of generational diversity also weakens the town’s finances.
The average cost to the town of an additional student is about $8,500, a number that includes what’s known as the Enrollment Growth Factor (the amount that the town gives to the schools for each additional student in the system, currently at 50 percent of the per pupil cost of the preceding year, or $7,297), as well as the average cost of the benefits that the town pays for new hires.
What this means is that during the time a household has children in the school system, it is likely receiving more in benefits than it pays in taxes. For the town’s finances to work, we also need people who do not have children to live and pay taxes in Arlington, including young adults and older adults for whom Arlington is becoming less affordable because of condo conversions, teardowns, etc.
But what about our overcrowded classrooms? The answer is that given the type of housing likely to be created on the main corridors, and the timing of that housing construction, I am not worried about further stresses to our school facilities.
By the time new housing is built, our elementary-aged population will likely be in modest decline. Five to 10 years out we expect to see enrollment stabilize at the middle and high school levels as well. That does not mean that we will have tons of extra space; just that we will no longer be in danger of taking over art, music, and literacy rooms for general classroom use.
Enrollment projections made by Dr. Jerome McKibbin in 2015 have so far been fairly accurate. His revised projections show that, without additional housing, we are expected to have 350 fewer elementary-aged students in the Arlington Public Schools 12 years from now than we have today.
The discussion about housing in Arlington reminds me of the discussion a few years ago over the Affordable Care Act. At that time, there was a lot of anxiety about potential changes to the health-care system, but insufficient appreciation (in my opinion) of the then current trends.
Any discussion of zoning changes in Arlington must take an honest look at where we are now, and the direction we are headed in if there were no zoning changes. Our current trends have us losing natural affordability and economic and demographic diversity because of teardowns, condo conversions and sharp price increases. We don’t have the option to freeze Arlington as we know it today (or 10 years ago) in place.
In closing, I would like to say that I am proud of our excellent schools and strongly believe that families who have recently moved to Arlington have strengthened our community, but I do not want Arlington to become a place where people move in with toddlers and move out soon as their children graduate from high school. The current trends have us losing both economic and generational diversity, which threatens not only our community and civic life, but our financial health as well. Adding more and diverse housing can help.
(DRAFT – 7/11/2019)
Arlington Planning Department officials report on options for the Town to mitigate the effects of housing demolitions and housing replacements in neighborhoods.
Evidence suggests that lack of appropriate regulatory policies have led to incidences of “mcmansions” and other issues that concern neighborhood residents. This study looks at the data, the policy and regulatory options for Arlington. It also looks at how comparable nearby communities have managed similar circumstances.
This 42 page report covers a great deal of data and analysis of homes by zoning district, gaps in the effectiveness of the current regulatory structure, affects on affordability in Arlington by zoning district, information on housing prices and sales, etc.
“Best practices” include descriptions of demolition delay, expansion of local historic districts, neighborhood conservation districts, design review standards and guidelines and possible revisions to the regulatory framework in Arlington. The report also includes interesting case examples of how comparable communities near Arlington handle these issues.
This report was presented to the Arlington Select Board on July 22.
Read the complete report and see the available data and tables.
A recently constructed project with 44 units of affordable housing shares a footprint with a new public library in this Chicago neighborhood. The Mayor and the Housing Authority initiated a competition for proposals from architecture firms to build projects that feature the “co-location” of uses, “shared spaces that bring communities together”, according to a recent article by Josephine Minutillo in ARCHITECTURAL RECORD (October 2019).
This project is an excellent example of how a municipal policy (increasing affordable housing) can drive creativity to meet policy goals. This project resulted from a combination of publicly owned land, municipal initiative, a quasi public housing agency expertise and a private architecture/ developer with a commitment to affordable housing. Could a project like this work in Arlington MA?
By Luc Schuster, CommonWealth Magazine, 11/16/19
There are actually two parts to the housing crisis now facing the region.
First, our society acknowledges the need to respect human rights and to provide a safety net for many for health care, food, etc. But there are no safety nets for housing. What Massachusetts has is a cobbled together patchwork of low-income housing programs and subsidies. But it leaves far too many behind.
Second, middle income families headed by school teachers, salespeople, nurses, non-profit workers, and retirees living on fixed incomes can not afford the average price of housing in the Greater Boston region. There are solutions, like allowing more density around public transit corridors and like permitting zoning changes to pass with a simple majority. Zoning changes are also necessary to move us toward a more sustainable environment.
(This post originally appeared as a one-page handout, distributed at The State of Zoning for Multi-Family Housing in Greater Boston.)
This chart shows the assessed value of Arlington’s low density housing from 2015–2019 (assessed values generally reflect market values from two years prior). During this time, home values increased between 39% (single-family homes) and 48% (two-family homes). Most of the change comes from the increasing cost of land. As a point of comparison, the US experienced 7.7% inflation during the same period. (1)
Arlington has constructed six apartment buildings in the 44 years since the town’s zoning bylaw was rewritten in 1975; we constructed 75 of them in the preceding 44 years.(2) Like numerous communities in the Metro-Boston area, we’re experiencing a high demand for housing, but our zoning regulations have created a paper wall that prevents more housing — including affordable housing — from being built.
Communities need adequate housing, but they also need housing diversity: different types of housing at different price points. The housing needs of young adults are different than the housing needs of parents with children, which are in turn different than the housing needs of senior citizens. As demographics change, housing needs change too. Keeping people in town means providing them with the opportunity to upsize or downsize when the need arises.
If Arlington’s housing costs had only increased with the rate of inflation, the cost of single family housing would average $581K, over $170K less than today. The median household income in Arlington is about $103K/year.(3) Buying an average single family-home with that income on a typical 30-year mortgage would require approximately 46% of a household’s monthly income.(4)
Either homes in Arlington will only be available to people who have much more substantial incomes than current residents, or the town will find a way to balance the rapidly growing cost of land against the housing needs of its current citizens, those still in school, those preparing to downsize as well as those looking for a bigger space.
In addition, Arlington’s commercial economy will thrive with a greater number of housing units so we can keep the empty nesters, and the new college graduates who have lived in the town for years, as well as welcome new Arlingtonians to support our local businesses, restaurants and other services.
Our Town, like others in the state, is looking for ways to balance the needs of our citizens with the market forces of rising land costs while maintaining a healthy, diverse community.
- The inflation amount comes from Inflation amount from https://data.bls.gov/cgi-bin/cpicalc.pl.
- Figures on multi-family unit construction are taken from Arlington Assessor’s data. They reflect multi-family buildings that are still used as rental apartments.
- Income levels come from 2013-2017 ACS 5-year data for Arlington, MA.
- Assuming 10% downpayment, 4% interest, $800/year for insurance, and Arlington’s $11.26 tax rate, the monthly mortgage payment would be nearly $4000/month.
from Karen Kelleher, Reporter
Interested in new policy developments on housing production in the Greater Boston area? The latest research from Mass Housing Partnership (MHP) is of interest. They just released (Dec. 18, 2019) in interactive map showing relative housing density around every mass transit and commuter rail station in the system, concluding that the region could add 235,000 units if every community allowed density as of right in the area around transit.
CHAPA has legislation pending that would require municipalities served by transit to allow higher density as of right within a certain distance from transit stations. You’ll see that the density around Alewife is not too bad in the context of the entire system.
This is mostly because of very high density in Cambridge near Alewife, but the density of two and three families in East Arlington shows better housing density than the sea of single family zoning around many commuter rail stops.
You can check it out here:https://www.mhp.net/news/2019/todex-research-brief
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