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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Race-based Inequality of Economic Opportunity

This is our national challenge for the next 25 years, according to Jeffrey C. Fuhrer, Executive Vice President/Chief Strategy Officer for MassDevelopment, the Commonwealth’s economic development and finance authority.

Fuhrer prepared this slide presentation for a meeting with regional affordable housing experts and developers in November, 2020. Part 1 looks at projections for the financial markets and issues in tax exempt financing and how such financing can help provide more affordable housing for poor people.

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Arlington Housing Prices- Out of Reach

Arlington Housing Prices are Out of Reach
Arlington Housing Prices are Out of Reach
Arlington is an Economically Diverse Place
Arlington is an Economically Diverse Place
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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  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, roll 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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Municipal Affordable Housing Trust:

A Guide for Arlington

The Massachusetts Housing Partnership put together this 2018 guidebook, v.3, to help municipalities adopt Municipal Affordable Housing Trust Fund (MAHT) legislation to suit the specific needs of each municipality.

Arlington is considering the acceptance of enabling legislation in the November 2020 Virtual Town Meeting to create the Town’s own MAHT. This will enable the Town to create a vehicle for receiving and spending funds to assist low and moderate income individuals and families to move toward greater housing stability. The MAHT does not provide money, but it does provide a place where the Town can receive money from a variety of sources to be used for furthering affordable housing. Examples include payments from developers, contributions from bequests and, if approved, a real estate transfer tax on the sale of higher priced homes in Arlington.

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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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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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Redlining and Urban Heat Islands

In the 1930’s the Home Owner’s Loan Corporation of America (HOLC) created actuarial maps of the United states. These maps were color coded — Green, Blue, Yellow, and Red — to reflect the amount of “risk” associated with home loans in those areas. The colors corresponded to “Best” (green), “Still Desirable” (blue), “Definitely Declining” (yellow), and “Hazardous” (red). Being in a green area made you likely to secure a federally-insured home mortgage, something that was effectively unavailable to red areas. Red areas were often associated with black populations, and these maps are where the term “redlining” comes from.

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The Color of Law on Sunnyside Ave

I live on Sunnyside Avenue in Arlington, Massachusetts. The neighborhood was built as two subdivisions in 1948, with 42 duplexes (84 homes total). These were starter homes with 792 square feet of finished space plus a basement with a garage. I affectionately refer to them as excellent specimens of mid-century slap-up. They were constructed in the mid 20th century, and the builder just kind of slapped them up.

Here’s one of the original newspaper ads for these homes.

Sunnyide - a Community of Duplexes in Arlington! Priced from $8750!

It’s fun to read the ad copy. The homes are “within walking distance of schools, transportation (MTA) and shopping centers” (a selling point that endures to this day); the lots are “large to provide for individual landscaping” (they’re 3,000 square feet give or take, which is unbuildably small by today’s zoning laws); and the homes have “full-sized dining rooms”, “spacious streamlined kitchens”, and “two large sunny bedrooms” (so much largeness for 792 square feet). I guess this was a time when good salesmanship took precedence over truth in advertising. It was a different time.

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