A Conversation about Housing in Arlington - Dec 13th, 2018

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This event was organized by the Department of Planning and Community Development. Whitney Demetrius (CHAPA) did most of the facilitation.

Adam Chapdelaine provides a short background statement. Town meeting approved Arlington's Master Plan in 2015, and the master plan had a section on the town's housing needs. Since then, the town has adopted a Housing Production Plan, and joined the Metropolitan Mayor's Coalition in their goal to produce 185,000 new housing units by 2030.

Whitney gives the group an ice-breaker exercise: talk with the person next to you, get to know something about them, and what brought them here tonight. After a few minutes of chatting, people were invited to summarize what they learned.

Here's what brought people to the meeting tonight:

  • Concern about condo conversions
  • Housing as a social justice issue, human rights, and civil rights.
  • Density, the magnitude of growth, and its impact on town services.
  • Condo conversions
  • The history of exclusionary development, and its impact on communities.
  • Transit and economic development.
  • The need for fair and affordable housing. What will the town look like in 20 years?
  • How does more housing get us to affordable housing?
  • The environment
  • Future generations
  • Affordability, and increasing density as a good economic factor.
  • The need for more senior housing.
  • Housing has become too expensive, and the cost is driving people out.
  • Transit and walkability
  • Affordable housing, and being able to afford to live in town.
  • Walkability
  • Public participation in the planning process
  • Affordability, density, and sustainability
  • Housing affordability
  • Concerns about climate change
  • Landlord/tenant issues, concerns over code violations and maintenance of rental units, changing demographics.
  • Retired veterans living on a fixed income
  • How many of the 185,000 units will come from Arlington?
  • Housing for people with disabilities.
  • Affordable housing
  • Increasing the opportunity for co-housing
  • Having enough housing
  • Rooming and Lodging houses -- can we accommodate them?
  • Sustainability, and the cost of housing.
  • The rising cost of housing.
  • Gentrification
  • Doing something about the exclusivity of the housing market
  • We'll be a richer and better community if there's more affordable housing. I was drawn to Arlington by its mix of classes.
  • Fair housing.

Next, there's a presentation about a multi-family zoning proposal under consideration.

There's been support for mixed-use development and more density along the commercial corridors and in smart growth areas. The town would like to encourage more housing diversity in these areas.

MAPC did a plot analysis of our higher-density residential zones, and looked at limitations in R4--R7. A number of ZBL provisions limit the amount of housing in the town.

Elements of the proposal include allowing six-units by right in R5--R7, reducing height buffer constraints, and making adjustments to open space requirements for mixed-use and multi-unit buildings.

The ARB will look at MAPC's recommendations on Monday night. On Jan 10th, there will be a public forum on these residential housing proposals.

A few people have questions and comments about the housing proposal.

How many affordable units could we create? That's the next question for investigation.

What about additional housing options, like co-housing and group residences? Our current housing models may not serve us well as the population ages. For example, a building designed for seniors needs two elevators, in case one breaks. You need a certain number of units in order to make that extra expense feasible.

We need to consider housing for people who make too much money to live in affordable housing, but make too little money to afford market rate.

Next, Whitney asks us to look around, and identify who's not in the room. Here's a list of groups that were under-represented, and groups attendees felt should be brought into the conversation:

  • Renters and tenants
  • There's a class and race bias (mostly older, mostly affluent enough to afford a home, and mostly white)
  • Physically disabled individuals
  • Tenants from the Arlington Housing Authority
  • People who can speak to climate change impacts
  • Property owners with underutilized properties
  • Property developers
  • Seniors
  • Business leaders and small business owners
  • The faith community.
  • A historian, or someone who can offer a historical perspective

Finally, more questions, answers and comments.

Viable business centers require people.

How do you reach people? Different cohorts have different interests, and outreach needs to be tailored accordingly.

Different groups have different levels of urgency. Who's needs are most immediate, and what decisions need to be made when?

This is a conversation that will be going on for a long time.

We need to talk with developers. Will the new allowances be things they're willing to build? Are they building things that meet people's needs?