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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Improving Residential Inclusiveness, Sustainability, and Affordability by Ending Single-Family Zoning

(Contributed by Ben Rudick and Steve Revilak)

We should end exclusionary Single Family Zoning in Arlington. This is inspired by Minneapolis which ended Single Family Zoning city-wide last year, as Oregon did. To be clear, we’re not suggesting an end to single family homes, only to exclusionary Single Family Zoning; you can still have a single-family house, but now you’d have the option to build a two-family or duplex instead.

79% of all residential land in Arlington is zoned exclusively for single family homes (in the R0 and R1 districts), meaning the only legal use of that land is for a single home built upon a large lot (source: Arlington GIS via the Department of Planning and Community Development). This is a problem for three key reasons:

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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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The State of Zoning for Multi-Family Housing in Greater Boston

(published June, 2019)

Overview

To solve the extraordinarily large deficit in housing for the greater Boston region, over 180,000 units of new housing should come on line in the next few years. This deficit is the result of a rapid expansion in in-migration due to new job creation, with no commensurate increase in housing production for the people taking those new jobs.

The report concludes that zoning is a primary culprit in restricting the development of an adequate housing supply, creating a “PAPER WALL” keeping out newcomers. The cost of this inadequate supply is a huge demand for housing which, in turn, bids up the price for available housing. The following “culprits” are considered: inadequate land area zoned for multi-family housing; low density zoning; age restrictions and bedroom restrictions; excessive parking requirements; mixed use requirements and approval processes. Alternative zoning models are suggested.

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