Equitable Arlington, along with City Life/Vida Urbana and the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, supports the legacy tenants of 840/846 Massachusetts Avenue in their resistance to rent increases of up to 50%. We urge the buildings’ owner, Torrington Properties, to continue negotiating an agreement with the tenants rather than pursue legal action likely to end in housing court. If more gradual increases are incompatible with Torrington’s business plan, we hope to see the sale of the property to the Housing Corporation of Arlington or another buyer who is committed to keeping the existing tenants in their homes.

840 Massachusetts Avenue
840 Massachusetts Avenue

The property, whose two larger buildings date to 1940 and 1963, faces Arlington High School, within easy reach of shopping and transit. It occupies one of relatively few spots in Arlington where people can live without a car. (Equitable Arlington and the MBTA Communities plan seek to encourage exactly this kind of housing.) Many of the middle- and lower-income tenants have been there for decades, including teachers, musicians, and some Section 8 voucher recipients. Some are immigrants with limited English. Laura Frost, who has lived there for 20 years, describes the apartments as “unofficial,” and therefore legally unprotected, affordable housing. Erica Schwarz, executive director of the Housing Corporation of Arlington, concurs: “There are so few places where low-income tenants are in units that aren’t restricted.”

846 Massachusetts Avenue

When Torrington Properties bought the buildings in 2019, it did not raise rents right away. Instead, the company pursued a familiar strategy of remodeling apartments when tenants moved out and then marketing them as “luxury” units. More recent arrivals are paying typical market rents. Of the longtime residents, several have left because they were worried about being pushed out to make way for more remodeling and steep rent increases, says Frost, who leads the tenants’ association. All have been tenants at will since Torrington bought the property, with their rents not rising but also not guaranteed by 12-month leases. In November 2022, she says, Torrington distributed a list of target rents for all of the units. A few months later, it informed legacy tenants, then about 20 in number, that they needed to either sign leases at the new rates or move out. 

“Our position was never ‘You can’t raise rents ever,’” says Frost, who recognizes that Torrington can legally set rents at any level. Working with City Life/Vida Urbana, she hoped for an agreement for more gradual rent increases, like the one Torrington had just reached with tenants near Forest Hills in Boston. By last spring, however, negotiations had broken down. A rally she organized in September drew Reps. Garballey and Rogers. In February, Torrington sent the legacy tenants notices to quit. We are encouraged that negotiations have since resumed. At the same time, we support a more sustainable option for these tenants and anyone who lives there in the future, as well as Arlington as a whole: a commitment, perhaps by a new owner, to keeping some units affordable in the long term. 

Schwarz, of the Housing Corporation of Arlington, has discussed purchasing the property from Torrington, which named a price she describes as “a few million dollars more” than HCA can offer. She has been exploring alternative ways to structure a purchase. This would include drawing on the Town of Arlington’s ARPA funds, as well as seeking mission-aligned equity partners for the project under a “mixed income” model. This would not displace any current tenants, but would, over time, provide a very high percentage of affordable units at a range of income levels, while also providing middle-income and market rate units.

Equitable Arlington  supports common-sense reforms that allow for more housing options and tenant protections for current and future Arlington residents. We support increased funding for affordable housing, both through the Affordable Housing Trust Fund and state and federal subsidies, and a wider range of housing choice for every income level and every life stage. We also champion housing that is sustainable, equitable, and accessible, including locating additional housing near public transportation, all of which we believe will make Arlington an even more welcoming community.

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