Housing Developer Math

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

Accessory Dwelling Units: Policies, Attitudes in Boston Region

from Alexandra P. Levering , Thesis, Urban & Environmental Policy and Planning, Tufts University, August 2017

By 2017 65 out of 101 municipalities in the greater Boston (MAPC) region allowed Accessory Dwelling Units by right or by special permit. The average number of ADU’s added per year was about 3. But by 2017, Lexington had 75 ADUs, Newton had 73 and Ipswich had 66. It is a slow process for a variety of reasons, but the number of units grows over time.

AARP recommends ADU’s. The help homeonwers cover rising housing costs by providing income trhough rent. They also create a space for a caretaker or a family member to live close by, as the homeowner ages.

Autism Housing Pathways and Advocates for Autism of MA (AFAM) came together to advocate for an ADU bylaw to benefit parents of adult children with disabilities. For more information see her complete thesis (with a very useful set of tables and bibliography) HERE.

Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) provide multigenerational housing options for aging parents and for adult children. They help families manage changing lifestyle, fiscal and/or caretaking situations.

This type of housing is seen by many as a clear opportunity to offer more affordable residential opportunities. One reason why they are slow to develop is the cost of renovation and construction for homeowners. Some communities offer low or no interest loans to encourage more ADU development.

Myths & Facts About Affordable Housing & Density

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.

Myth #1
High-density housing is affordable housing; affordable
housing is high-density housing.
Fact #1
Not all high density housing is affordable to low-income families.

Myth #2
High-density and affordable housing will cause too much traffic.
Fact #2
People who live in affordable housing own fewer cars and
drive less.

Myth #3
High-density development strains public services and
infrastructure.
Fact #3
Compact development offers greater efficiency in use of
public services and infrastructure.

Myth #4
People who live in high-density and affordable housing
won’t fit into my neighborhood.
Fact #4
People who need affordable housing already live and work
in your community.

Myth #5
Affordable housing reduces property values.
Fact #5
No study in California has ever shown that affordable
housing developments reduce property values.

Myth #6
Residents of affordable housing move too often to be stable
community members.
Fact #6
When rents are guaranteed to remain stable, tenants
move less often.

Myth #7
High-density and affordable housing undermine community
character.
Fact #7
New affordable and high-density housing can always be
designed to fit into existing communities.

Myth #8
High-density and affordable housing increase crime.
Fact #8
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.

Affordable housing: San Marcos Apartments, Irvine CA, 64 units/ acre

San Paulo at 25 units per acre.

Affordable housing at San Paulo apartments, Irvine CA, 25 units/ acre.

Both are designed to blend with nearby homes.

“Surging Seas” Risk Zone Map Shows Arlington Wetlands Threat

Climate Central’s Surging Seas global Risk Zone Map provides the ability to explore inundation ​risk ​up to 30 meters across the world’s coastlines as well as local sea level rise projections at over 1,000 tide gauges on 6 continents.

Set the map for Boston MA and focus in on the Arlington area to see how the town would be affected by rising sea levels, as predicted over the next few decades.

Map areas below the selected water level are displayed as satellite imagery shaded in blue indicating vulnerability to flooding from combined sea level rise, storm surge, and tides, or to permanent submergence by long-term sea level rise. Map areas above the selected water level are shown in map style using white and pale grays. The map is searchable by city, state, postal code, and other location names. The map is embeddable, and users can customize and download map screenshots using the camera icon in the top right of the screen.

For map areas in the U.S., the Risk Zone map incorporates the latest, high-resolution, high-accuracy lidar elevation data supplied by NOAA, displays points of interest, and contains layers displaying social vulnerability and population density. For map areas outside the U.S. the map utilizes elevation data from NASA’s Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM).

Arlington wetlands on interactive map set to show future 8 foot water rise.

https://ss2.climatecentral.org/?#13/42.4074/-71.1100?show=satellite&projections=0-K14_RCP85-SLR&level=8&unit=feet&pois=hide

Design Ideas for Transit Corridors-Pike/Pine District

Seattle finds new tools to preserve neighborhood character in the Pike / Pine Corridor of the city. Arlington has its own neighborhood districts that are now being re-thought with new planning for the neighborhoods’ future. These include the Broadway Corridor, the Mass Ave. Transit Corridor and Arlington Heights.

The tools here include samples for what Arlington might do, “overlay District”, Transfer of Development Potential (TDP).  A TDP provides incentives

for property owners to keep existing “character structures” rather than tear them down. A Conservation Core was also established within the district to further ensure that new development is more compatible with the special scale and character of existing development in this area. They also prepared Design Guidelines, Zoning Ordinance, Environmental Review Checklist, Cultural Overlay District, “Center Village” Plan, Inventory of Historic Resources, etc.

Transit Corridor Strategy for More Housing

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

Reinhardt on Sustainable Housing Ideas

Prof. Christophe Reinhardt runs the MIT Sustainable Design Lab.  On Nov. 25, 2019 he gave a very interesting presentation, including talk and slides, that shows a pathway to make more housing, all kinds of housing, and greater housing density both more palatable in Arlington, and actually desirable.  He also stressed the importance of paying attention to housing now in order to meet the climate change challenge. Charts (starting about 10 min in) show how drastically we need to reduce our carbon footprint to reach net zero by 2050. Buildings today account for about 40% of our carbon emissions world wide. What we build today will likely be around through 2050.

Paying attention to housing design is important to create a sustainable environment.

Here is the link for the Reinhardts talk and slide show:
http://scienceforthepublic.org/energy-and-resources/designing-sustainable-urban-development

or see it on youtube: https://youtu.be/YAeCvUZmUrI

He uses research, drawn from around the world and locally, to show what measurable attributes make local communities desirable to live in and what attributes of housing make residents happy. 

Key attributes for success (slide is at about 18:15 min. in presentation):

1.  Economic opportunities (proximity to work opportunities)

2.  High quality living (daylight access for buildings, streets, walkable, mixed use, micro-units, vibrant public spaces, organic food, fitness opportunities)

3.  Sustainability (comfortable work and play and living spaces, resource efficiency)

The presentation was arranged by the Robbins Library. It was developed and recorded by Science for the Public as part of it’s lecture series.

For more information on sustainability and cities, cities and local municipalities are beginning to recognize the important linkages between urban resiliency, human well-being, and climate change mitigation and adaptation activities. https://news.mongabay.com/2019/11/how-cities-can-lead-the-fight-against-climate-change-using-urban-forestry-and-trees-commentary/ Courtesy of Science for the Public Interest Weekly News Roundup.


(For more opportunities to learn about sustainability, buildings and cities, sign up for the FREE MITx “Sustainable Building Design” online course which starts January.)


Two Different Housing Crises

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.

What Is Impact on Arlington School Costs of More Housing?

Does Arlington need more housing? If yes, will more housing result in higher school costs? There is a perception that more housing means more school age children and more school age children will strain the capacity and expand the budget of the Arlington Public Schools.

Prelimary reviews suggest that more housing would not strain the APS capacity for a variety of complex reasons. These reasons include: school age children do not always go to APS; by the time new housing came on line, the school enrollment, now growing, will have begun to decline; Arlington needs more diverse kinds of housing, not just family housing; the 283 units of housing that came on line through Brigham Square and 360 contributed more in property tax revenue than they cost in school enrollment costs…. by over $980K in 2019. Read this for more information.

More analysis is needed. More discussion is needed. These are complicated and nuanced issues. Readers with additional comments should send them to info@equitable-arlington.org.

New Library Designed to Include Affordable Housing

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?