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Progressing the Cause of Affordable Housing

(Elliot L. is an 8th grader at the Ottoson Middle School)

In the middle of COVID-19, I started to notice a large construction project happening right down the street in our little neck of the woods by Thompson school. I simply assumed it was another apartment building, but after asking the adults of my community, I found it was much more impactful than that. Arlington was supporting a large affordable housing project to be established, along with plans of putting Arlington EATS, a food pantry, below it. This got the gears in my tiny sixth grade mind churning. I began asking questions like: how do you apply to live there? How much does it cost? Do the owners provide you with furniture? Of course, most of those questions were answered by my parents, and then quickly put in the back of my mind. However, the idea of affordable housing stuck with me, especially when you can see it from your front porch. Upon reaching the 8th grade, where I am now, I found myself and every student in my class presented with a year long project trying to make change in Arlington. This assignment, called the Civics Action Project, or CAP, guides students to choosing a local issue they wish to address.

The premise got me thinking. How can I help my community with our rising cost of living and need for affordable housing? Initially, the other students and I were overwhelmed by the magnitude of the issue, and had trouble thinking of a reachable solution.

Despite this, a small group of classmates and I were intrigued by a bill mentioned by Claire Ricker, Arlington’s director of Planning and Community Development, during an informational panel. Ms. Ricker talked about the MBTA Communities Act, a law requiring Arlington to create higher-density housing near the T. We knew we had found our goal, to raise awareness and support zoning for affordable housing as part of the act.

However, as our research continued, we learned of the real function of this legislation. The goal of the MBTA communities act is to build more compact middle income housing. This will make it so people like young adults and downsizers can come to live in this town, building their future and contributing to a diverse community. This is an essential step in the right direction for the town, but our strides need to be longer.

In order to support our goal, we still wanted to learn more about Arlington’s affordable housing needs. We wanted to promote those issues, as well as the missing middle housing we desperately need. Our group started by conducting a survey that we posted on Arlington forums, along with directly sending it to as many people as we could. 60 residents responded, and we then shared these results with Select Board member Len Diggins. Here are some of the most interesting results of this survey!

  • Many people in Arlington still struggle with home, food, and job insecurities.
  • The cost of living has made almost every family surveyed have to change their lifestyle in some way.
  • Over 1/3 of Arlington residents believe their salary is not enough to support their families.
  • 87% of people think Arlington government is making a subpar effort at combating these issues.
  • When asked what they would like to see the town do, Arlington residents supported the idea of building more affordable housing and providing aid and support to local food distribution groups, such as Foodlink or Arlington EATS.
  • About half of residents have heard of and know about the MBTA communities act.

After the results of our survey, along with other actions taken to learn more about the MBTA communities act, my group and I came to a conclusion of our plan: In order to try and make a change in Arlington, we were going to spread the word to as many adults as we could in order to support both the higher-density housing the MBTA communities act is focused on, and lower cost housing. While these are separate things, our thinking is that the more people who can vote and hear about this, the more willing they will be to connect and support the different pieces of the puzzle to solve our housing issue. This is not just a one-time thing. The MBTA communities act is a planned, strategic opportunity to make Arlington a better place for the future. We hope with the information provided, you will also keep the cause of affordable housing progressing as well. Thank you for reading!

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