Arlington 2020: Cost Distributions of Housing

It’s New Year’s eve and I’m determined to get my third and final “Arlington 2020” article written and posted before 2021 rolls in. I’ve written these articles to paint a picture of Arlington’s housing stock, and how our housing costs have changed over time. The first article looked at the number of one-, two-, and three-family homes and condominiums in Arlington. The second article looked at how the costs of these homes has varied over time.

In this article, I’m going to look at the per-unit costs for our different housing types. The per-unit cost is just the assessed value, divided by the number of units. For condos and single-family homes, the unit cost is simply the assessed value. For two-family homes, it’s the assessed value divided by two. For a ten-unit apartment building, it’s the assessed value divided by ten. We’ll look at the price ranges within housing types, as well as the general differences between them.

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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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Accessory Dwelling Units

Accessory Dwelling Units (aka “granny flats”)

The following information was presented to the Arlington Redevelopment Board in October, 2020 by Barbara Thornton, TMM, Precinct 16

This Article 19 proposes to allow Accessory Dwelling Units, “as of right”, in each of the 8 residential zoning districts in Arlington.

Why is this zoning legislation important?

Arlington is increasingly losing the diversity it once had.  It has become increasingly difficult for residents who have grown up and grown old in the town to remain here.  This will only become more difficult as the effects of tax increases to support the new schools, including the high school, role into the tax bills for lower income residents and senior citizens on a fixed income.  For young adults raised in Arlington, the price of a home to buy or to rent is increasingly out of reach.

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Why Should Arlington Have an Affordable Housing Trust Fund?

Arlington has an opportunity to set up an Affordable Housing Trust Fund to provide more housing stability for its low and moderate income residents. The vote will occur in the Town Meeting starting Nov. 16, 2020.

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Arlington has an opportunity to set up an Affordable Housing Trust Fund to provide more housing stability for its low and moderate income residents. The vote will occur in the Town Meeting starting Nov. 16, 2020.

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Multi-family Housing By Right

For Arlington’s Nov 2020 Special Town Meeting, my colleague Ben Rudick filed the following warrant article:

ARTICLE 18: ZONING BYLAW AMENDMENT/IMPROVING RESIDENTIAL INCLUSIVENESS, SUSTAINABILITY, AND AFFORDABILITY BY ENDING SINGLE FAMILY ZONING

To see if the Town will vote to amend the Zoning Bylaw for the Town of Arlington by expanding the set of allowed residential uses in the R0 and R1 zoning districts with the goal of expanding and diversifying the housing stock by altering the district definitions for the R0 and R1 zoning districts; or take any action related thereto.

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Arlington 2020: the Cost of Low-Density Housing

This is the second in a series of “Arlington 2020” articles. The first article looked at the number of one-, two-, and three-family homes and condominiums in Arlington, and how that housing stock has changed over time. This article will examine changes in the value of those properties. We’re going to look at “value” through the lens of property assessments, so we should start with an explanation of what property assessments are and how they’re used.

A property assessment is simply the Town Assessor’s best estimate of what a property is worth, based on market values. The assessor’s office inspects properties every ten years; during intervening years, assessments are adjusted based on sale prices of similar homes in a given tax neighborhood. For all practical purposes, assessed values tend to trail market values by two years. In my neighborhood, property assessments are spot on — my house was assessed at $501,000 in 2020; during 2018, sales of similar homes in the neighborhood ranged from $495,000 to $520,000.

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Arlington’s Industrial District Survey

During the last few months, Arlington’s Department of Planning and Community Development and Zoning Bylaw Working Group have been conducting a study of the town’s industrial districts. The general idea has been to begin with an assessment of current conditions, and consider whether there are zoning changes that might make these districts more beneficial to the community as a whole.

To date, the major work products of this effort have been:

The survey recently closed. I asked the planning department for a copy of they survey data, which they were generous enough to provide. That data is the subject of this blog post.

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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.

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The Color of Law on the old Allen Farm

Restrictive covenants are a “list of obligations that purchasers of property must assume … For the first half of the 20th century, one commonplace commitment was a promise never to sell or rent to an African American”. [1] These covenants gained popularity after the Supreme Court’s 1917 decision in Buchanan v. Warley.

Rothstein’s book The Color of Law mentions examples from Brookline, MA; Arlington, MA has examples of it’s own. We’ll look at one from an East Arlington deed dating to 1923. Credit to Christopher Sacca for finding these documents.

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Arlington 2020: Low Density Housing

I’ve had an annual ritual for the past several years: obtain a spreadsheet of property assessments from the Town Assessor, load them in to a database, and run a series of R computations against the data. I started doing this for a number of reasons: to understand what was built where (our zoning laws have changed over time, and there are numerous non-conforming uses), the relationship between land and building values, the capital costs of different types of housing, and how these factors have changed over time.

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