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

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.

I have often spoken to the community about our rapid enrollment growth — over 2,000 students added in the last 25 years, 60 percent of those in the last 10 years. Because of these large enrollment increases the Arlington Public Schools have had to add capacity, which the town has generously supported. So how can I be in favor of adding more housing to Arlington, and thus potentially adding even more students to our already stressed school facilities?

Losing diversity
I will get to the capacity issue in a bit, but first I want to point out that in the last 30 years Arlington has lost both economic and generational diversity. The story about the loss of economic diversity is well known; the loss of generational diversity less so.

Between 1990 and 2010, the percentage of residents between 20 and 34 dropped from 28 percent to 17 percent. During that same period, the population over 65 dropped from 18 percent to 16 percent. What replaced these demographic groups were primarily residents between the ages of 35 and 54 and 0 and 14. In other words, mostly families with school-aged children. The loss of both types of diversity weakens the fabric of our community. However, the loss of generational diversity also weakens the town’s finances.

The average cost to the town of an additional student is about $8,500, a number that includes what’s known as the Enrollment Growth Factor (the amount that the town gives to the schools for each additional student in the system, currently at 50 percent of the per pupil cost of the preceding year, or $7,297), as well as the average cost of the benefits that the town pays for new hires.

What this means is that during the time a household has children in the school system, it is likely receiving more in benefits than it pays in taxes. For the town’s finances to work, we also need people who do not have children to live and pay taxes in Arlington, including young adults and older adults for whom Arlington is becoming less affordable because of condo conversions, teardowns, etc.

Overcrowded classrooms
But what about our overcrowded classrooms? The answer is that given the type of housing likely to be created on the main corridors, and the timing of that housing construction, I am not worried about further stresses to our school facilities.

By the time new housing is built, our elementary-aged population will likely be in modest decline. Five to 10 years out we expect to see enrollment stabilize at the middle and high school levels as well. That does not mean that we will have tons of extra space; just that we will no longer be in danger of taking over art, music, and literacy rooms for general classroom use.

Enrollment projections made by Dr. Jerome McKibbin in 2015 have so far been fairly accurate. His revised projections show that, without additional housing, we are expected to have 350 fewer elementary-aged students in the Arlington Public Schools 12 years from now than we have today.

The discussion about housing in Arlington reminds me of the discussion a few years ago over the Affordable Care Act. At that time, there was a lot of anxiety about potential changes to the health-care system, but insufficient appreciation (in my opinion) of the then current trends.

Zoning changes
Any discussion of zoning changes in Arlington must take an honest look at where we are now, and the direction we are headed in if there were no zoning changes. Our current trends have us losing natural affordability and economic and demographic diversity because of teardowns, condo conversions and sharp price increases. We don’t have the option to freeze Arlington as we know it today (or 10 years ago) in place.

In closing, I would like to say that I am proud of our excellent schools and strongly believe that families who have recently moved to Arlington have strengthened our community, but I do not want Arlington to become a place where people move in with toddlers and move out soon as their children graduate from high school. The current trends have us losing both economic and generational diversity, which threatens not only our community and civic life, but our financial health as well. Adding more and diverse housing can help.

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.

Will More Arlington Housing Raise Town Costs For Schools?

Prepared by: Barbara Thornton with the capable assistance of Alex Bagnall, Pamela Hallett, Patrick Hanlon, Karen Kelleher, Steve Revilak and Jennifer Susse.

As Arlington considers new zoning and other policy decisions to increase the amount of affordable housing in the town, a concern has been raised about the threat of greater costs to the Town’s budget from new people with school age children moving into the town. The concern: additional children in the public schools costs the town more than the additional new property tax revenue the Town collects from the new housing.

This post examines this concern, drawing on data from two recent housing developments, representing 283 units of housing in Arlington, to determine that actually the Town budget gains over 4.5 times the actual cost of paying for the students. According to the most recent 2020 tax bills, the Town expects to collect $1,250,370 in revenue and to spend an additional $269,589 for the new Arlington Public School students living in these developments.

The data suggests that the fear of increased school costs, overwhelming the potential new revenue from new housing construction is not warranted.

For more information, see the full post here.

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.

This memorandum from the City of Somerville to the legislature provides a great deal of information on the history, background and justification for such legislation.

House bill 1769, filed January, 2019, is an “Act supporting affordable housing with a local option for a fee to be applied to certain real estate transactions“.

COMMENT:

KK:  This article suggests Arlington may be likely to pass a real estate transfer tax:  https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/12/19/boston-one-step-closer-to-a-luxury-real-estate-transfer-tax/

Three Prong Perspective on New Housing Development

Issues of supply, affordability, and equity all contribute to an ongoing housing crisis in Massachusetts. Among U.S. metro areas with knowledge-based industries, metro Boston ranks near the bottom in housing production and near the top on development costs. Due to the latter, production of new affordable housing units has scarcely increased over the past decade. And largely decentralized authority over land use regulations, by 351 cities and towns, does little to foster uniform housing equity standards.

Clark Ziegler in MassBENCHMARK Journal vol.21 issue 1

For more information on the challenges of supply, affordability and equity, see the article. Clark Ziegler is the Executive Director of the Massachusetts Housing Partnership.

New Housing Offers Fiscal Benefits to Communities

A study by Elise Rapoza and Michael Goodman shows that new housing construction in MA does not have an adverse affect on municipal or school budgets. And when it might, state funding covers the difference. This study contradicts the often heard argument against new housing development, especially multi-family housing, because it, the argument claims, it will have a negative fiscal impact on communities.

In the aggregate, development of new housing offers net fiscal benefit to both municipalities and the state. Additional analysis validates a second study which found that increased housing production does not predict enrollment changes in Massachusetts school districts. In the new study, a distinct minority of municipalities did incur net fiscal burdens—burdens that the net new state tax proceeds associated with the development of new housing are more than sufficient to offset.

Communities Need Less Parking

Communities need fewer parking spaces for cars.

In a 2019 study, MAPC found that:

  1. Three out of ten spaces sit empty during peak demand
  2. The key factors that drive parking demand are parking supply, transit accessibility and the percentage of deed-restricted units

This study raises important questions about the wisdom of continuing to commit large sections of the land area of our municipalities to be on reserve for parking cars. Such extra space could be used to benefit the open space, environmental sustainability and the need for more housing.