Housing & Arlington: Community Discussions

Beginning last July, 2020, the Town of Arlington and community groups in the town are sponsoring a number of webinars and zoom conversations addressing the need for affordable housing programs in Arlington. Several factors contribute to the Arlington housing situation: diversity of housing types, prices, diversity of incomes, availability of housing subsidies, rapid growth in property values that greatly exceed the rate of growth of income.

But racism, both historic and current, continues to stand out as a significant force contributing to the difficult housing situation.

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63 Percent in Greater Boston Back Accessory Dwelling Units

from Banker & Tradesman, March 10, 2020: https://www.bankerandtradesman.com/63-percent-in-greater-boston-back-adus/ B&T produced a terrific report on the strong interest across the nation in allowing more ADUs (Accessory Dwelling Units) . This follows after California recently passed strong “YIMBY” legislation encouraging the developement of ADU’s.

“A new, nationwide survey from real estate website Zillow has found that nearly two-thirds of Boston-area residents want the ability to convert their single-family homes into multifamily units.

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Zoning for Accessory Dwelling Units

by Amy Dain, for Pioneer Institute of Public Policy Research and Smart Growth Alliance, July 2018 (This study updates a 2004-06 study on ADUs by the Pioneer Institute.)

Even in the midst of a housing crisis, zoning laws prohibit most homeowners in cities and towns around Boston from adding accessory dwelling units (ADUs) to their single family houses. An ADU is an apartment within or behind an own- er-occupied single family house that appears from the street to be a single-family as opposed to a two-family house.

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Towns Join for Regional Approach to Affordable Housing

Interview with Aaron Clausen, AICP; City of Beverly, Director, Planning and Community Development

Rather than express generalized worry about the “lack of affordable housing”, Peabody, Salem and Beverly have created an intermunicipal Memorandum of Mnderstanding (MOU) to very specifically define and target the problem and the population they want to address.

According to Aaron Clausen, “There is a fair amount of context that goes along with the MOU, but primarily the communities got together as sort of a coalition to survey and understand what was going on relative to homelessness. What came out of that is a recognition that there is not enough affordable housing generally, and particularly transitional housing, or more specifically permanent supportive housing.

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Consider the Schools: Add More Housing

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.

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Ease Regional Housing Crisis: Four Tasks

According to a Nov. 26, 2019 Boston GLOBE editorial, there are four tasks necessary to ease the housing crisis in the Greater Boston Region:

  1. Champion housing production and affordability at the state level.
  2. Urge private-sector investment in housing solutions.
  3. Drive inclusive growth.
  4. Get more involved locally.

This editorial by Paul S. Grogan, president and CEO of the Boston Foundation and Arlington resident, Karen E. Kelleher, executive director of LISC Boston, explain these four tasks. They also describe how much other, comparable urban areas around the US are doing to solve similar housing problems. We are not keeping up with solutions. It will take a collective effort. “Next Level Housing Solutions” is a collaboration of concerned organizations and community leaders intended to move the region toward housing solutions.

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Real Estate Transfer Tax Funds for Affordable Housing

The City of Somerville estimates that a 2% real estate transfer fee — with 1% paid by sellers and 1% paid by buyers, and that exempts owner-occupants (defined as persons residing in the property for at least two years) — could generate up to $6 million per year for affordable housing. The hotter the market, and the greater the number of property transactions, the more such a fee would generate.

Other municipalities are also looking at this legislation but need “home rule” permission, one municipality at a time, from the state to enact it locally. Or, alternatively, legislation could be passed at the state level to allow all municipalities to opt into such a program and design their own terms. This would be much like the well regarded Community Preservation Act (CPA) program that provides funds for local governments to do historic preservation, conservation, etc.

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Book Shows Municipal Contribution to Segregation

According to Richard Rothstein in his 2017 book, Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, “we have created a caste system in this country, with African-Americans kept exploited and geographically separate by racially explicit government policies,” he writes. “Although most of these policies are now off the books, they have never been remedied and their effects endure.” Zoning was one of the policies that contributed significantly to this outcome.

A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America

Here are some highlights, selected for Arlington readers, from this book:

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Exclusionary Zoning in Arlington Began in 1950’s

by Alexander vonHoffman, Joint Center for Housing Studies, Harvard University, February 2006

The case study shows that in the 1970s the Town of Arlington completely abandoned its policy of encouraging development of apartment buildings—and high-rise buildings at that—and adopted requirements that severely constricted the possibilities for developing multifamily dwellings. Although members of the elite introduced the new approach, they were backed by rank-and-file citizens, who took up the cause to protect their neighborhoods from perceived threats.

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