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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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 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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When was Arlington’s Housing Built?

The material in this post came from my efforts to learn about when Arlington’s housing was built. The data comes from the town’s 2019 property tax assessments, where I took our nineteen-thousand-and-some-odd homes and apartments and broke them down by housing type and decade built. It’s not exactly a history housing of production, though it is a close approximation. In this analysis, a single-family home built in the 1912 and rebuilt as a two-family in 1976 would show up as two units built in the 1970s. Similarly, a three-family home that was built in the 1924 and later converted to condominiums would show up as three condominiums built in the 1920s.

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