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Why Should Arlington Have an Affordable Housing Trust Fund?

Text of Warrant Article 8: (To be considered at Special Town Meeting (Virtual), Mon. 11/16/20 at 8:00 p.m.)


To see if the Town will vote to accept Massachusetts General Laws c. 44 § 55C, to authorize the creation of a Municipal Affordable Housing Trust Fund to support the development of affordable housing in Arlington, establish a new bylaw for the administration of same; or take any action related thereto. (Inserted by the Select Board)”

What will it do? How will it work?

A Proactive Step to Address Housing Affordability. With a municipal affordable housing trust, Arlington will join more than 113 Massachusetts municipalities that have formed a housing trust fund to support a proactive strategy for building housing affordability. The Trust is a small step the Town can take to more proactively address the housing affordability crisis that challenges many of our current residents and makes Arlington increasingly inaccessible to new residents. Creating affordable housing can also be a strategy for maintaining or increasing diversity.

Ability to Act Quickly.
A primary benefit of a housing trust is to enable the Town to act quickly to support or participate in transactions that increase or preserve affordable housing in Arlington. Without a Trust, the Town does not have the flexibility or agility to act quickly. Following are some examples, though there are many other ways that trusts can and do advance housing affordability:
• Financing the acquisition and/or development of market properties for conversion to affordable housing by a nonprofit developer;
• Purchasing an existing affordable home to ensure resale to another low income buyer, or purchasing a market rate home to create an affordable homeownership opportunity;
• Providing flexible financing to increase the number of affordable units or reduce income levels in existing or new projects that include affordable housing.

Developing a Housing Trust Strategy Over Time.

The strategies to be pursued by the Trust would be set forth by the Trustees in a plan or proposal(s) they would lay out after they are appointed, most likely after/through a process of public engagement. The specific strategies are, deliberately, not part of the warrant article or the Bylaw proposed for adoption. This allows the Town the flexibility to set and modify the Town’s housing strategies over time, in a manner that is responsive to the public and its elected representatives. The Bylaw requires the strategy or plan, and most major Trust decisions, to be approved by the Select Board, and Town investments in the Trust would still require Town Meeting approval.

Funding the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

Creating affordable housing requires substantial subsidy. The Trust’s ability to cause more affordable housing to be created or preserved in Arlington will be directly related to the availability of resources to fund it and leverage additional state and federal resources. The vote before the Special Town Meeting this fall will not provide any funding for the Trust.

While it is anticipated that the Trust might receive initial funding via a grant of Community Preservation Act funds from the CPA Committee, to increase our impact, more resources will be needed.

How Other Communities Fund Their Housing Trust Funds.

The Community Preservation Act is the most common source of funding, but the most impactful trusts tend to have a variety of funding sources that result in a steady flow of financial resources into the Trust. Other municipalities have tapped into a variety of additional sources, including inclusionary zoning payments, federal HOME funds, voluntary/negotiated developer payments, proceeds from sale of tax foreclosed or other Town-owned properties, cell tower payments, cannabis-related revenue, short-term rental fees, fees for managing housing lotteries, sale of bonds, general municipal funding, and private donations. Many also donate excess town property to their housing trust for sale and redevelopment as affordable or mixed income housing. More recently, a number of cities and towns have proposed home rule petitions that would allow them to impose a small fee on the transfer of real property to fund their housing trusts, and there is state legislation proposed to authorize cities and towns to impose such transfer fees without sending a Home Rule Petition to the state legislature.

Building Trust Resources Through a Transfer Fee.

The Housing Plan Implementation Committee originally recommended that Town Meeting adopt a bylaw creating a housing trust and create a funding source for it by voting to authorize the filing of a home rule petition to impose a modest real estate transfer fee. Although the Select Board elected to defer consideration of the transfer fee until 2021, such a fee is attractive to many, because it would be borne only by those selling their Arlington homes or properties, and because it provides a mechanism to capture a very small portion of the extraordinary equity increase that Arlington property owners have realized over many years due to regional market forces. The details of such a fee are important and merit further discussion, but it presents a promising potential revenue source to empower the Trust to be proactive.

The Process.

The article in front of the Special Town Meeting would start the process of creating a municipal affordable housing trust. Once approved by Town Meeting the Affordable Housing Trust Bylaw would be submitted to the Attorney General to certify its consistency with the state law governing housing trusts within 90 days. Once so certified, the Town Manager will appoint trustees, including at least one member of the Select Board. Once these appointments are confirmed by the Select Board, the Trustees themselves would lead the process of proposing an initial set of goals and strategies for the Trust to implement, after approval by the Select Board.

Financial Stability & Accountability.

The Trust will be governed by the MAHT law passed in 2005 that specifies powers and limitations for trusts of this type. The proposed Bylaw has been reviewed and modified pursuant to suggestions of the Finance Committee to ensure accountability and financial stability. The Trust will be managed by the Treasurer, will be audited annually, will have legal and practical limitations on its borrowing capacity, and will not have the power to pledge the full faith and credit of the Town.

To learn more about municipal affordable housing trusts, refer to the MHP Municipal Affordable Housing Trust Fund Guide, v.3


This information was prepared by Karen Kelleher, Arlington Town Meeting Member, Precinct 5, Member, Arlington Housing Planning Implementation Committee and Executive Director, LISC Boston ( Local Initiative Support Corporation)

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