Affordable Housing Trust Board - Dec 12th, 2023

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Meeting held via remote participation. Materials were available from

175 Mass Ave (Fox Library) Housing Feasibility Study

(Claire Ricker, Planning Director) Ms. Ricker says the Library Board of Trustees are investigating the feasibility of rebuilding the Fox Library, and they've expressed interest in doing housing above. The town applied for, and was awarded, a grant for a feasibility study. We're working with MAPC to kick off the study, and look at precedents for this kind of project. Ms. Ricker says that housing above libraries has been done successfully in other communities. Part of the feasibility study will look at how many units, how tall, and how to handle air rights. She says the project kickoff will be soon.

(Neal Mongold, AHTB) Mr. Mongold asked if feasibility study was funded via the Executive Office of Housing and Livable Community's (EOHLC's) one-stop program.

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker answers in the affirmative.

(Neal Mongold) Mr. Mongold thinks the Trust should lend its support to this effort.

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker thinks the project would end up going through one-stop for funding. She'd like to write an RFP for development ideas. At the very least, she'd like to see the library built in a way that doesn't preclude having housing above.

(Phil Tedesco, AHTB) Mr. Tedesco says this is an exciting opportunity. He thinks that an all-affordable or mixed-income project would be good.

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker says we're still trying to determine whether a library with housing should be done by one builder or multiple builders, and what kind of public/private partnership to use. She says that Boston is doing something similar at the West End Library. When it's complete, the city will buy the residential units from the developer, and lease them out.

(Eric Helmuth, AHTB) Mr. Helmuth asks if we should be thinking about money for pre-development costs.

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker says we've gotten $100k in grants for pre-development work.

(Beth Elliott, AHTB) Ms. Elliott says an RFP for ideas is a good step. She thinks it would be beneficial to separate the asset classes, because there are different funding rules for municipal and private development. She says that will be an important part of the feasibility study.

Affordable Housing Overlay

(Karen Kelleher, AHTB Chair) Ms. Kelleher begins a presentation about an upcoming Affordable Housing Overlay proposal. She says the Housing Corporation of Arlington's (HCA's) projects are featured heavily, because they've done an extraordinary job at leveraging resources. Ms. Kelleher says the goal is to attract developers that also know how to leverage these resources. We'll need projects of at least 30--35 units, to take advantage of Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC).

The Affordable Housing Trust Fund's action plan suggests having a more predictable permitting process in order to encourage production of more affordable housing. An affordable housing overlay would be aligned with this part of the action plan.

Ms. Kelleher says that 83% of HCA's Downing Square project was funded via state and federal grants; 13% is mortgaged, and 4% came from the town. Only two developments in Arlington have ever leveraged LIHTC, and both were done by HCA.

Some of the ideas behind the overlay are that it would apply throughout the town, and there would be a high percentage of deed restricted units, with some market rate to allow income mixing. It should allow projects that are large enough to qualify for subsidies but still be related to the surrounding zoning.

(Eric Helmuth) Mr. Helmuth thinks it will be important to confront the scariness of having something that applies town-wide.

(Karen Kelleher) Ms. Kelleher says the group that's been working on the overlay has been thinking along the lines of having 70% or more units restricted to 60% of the area median income or less, with two stories allowed beyond current zoning. Setbacks would be driven by the underlying district, with a parking requirement of 0.5 spaces/dwelling. Ms. Kelleher thinks there should be an allowance for ground-floor commercial; many of Arlington's larger parcels are in the Business and Industrial districts, so the overlay has to work there. Ms. Kelleher says that doing commercial might require the town to guarantee rent for those spaces, or buy them.

EOHLC rules would require 13% of dwellings to be priced at 50% AMI or lower, so there would be some deeper affordability.

In terms of a schedule, Ms. Kelleher hopes to present a conceptual plan to the ARB on January 8th. The warrant closes on January 26th. There should be a public forum in January to explain how affordable housing is funded, and why an affordable housing overlay would be a useful tool for the town. There'd be a stakeholder forum in February, and ARB review of the proposal in February or March.

(Jaclyn Pacejo, AHTB) Ms. Pacejo asks about the minimum lot size and number of units.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says the goal of the overlay is to lead to projects that actually get built, which means ones large enough to qualify for LIHTC funding. He says that a large part of this exercise has been figuring out how to get to 30, 35, or 40 units -- which is essentially what we're targeting. Mr. Revilak thinks this is doable on 20,000 square foot lots, and maybe 15,000 square feet in some cases.

(Karen Kelleher) Ms. Kelleher says the group has really been focused on scales where funding is available.

There's discussion about parking requirements. Mr. Revilak recalls the ZBA hearings for 1165R Mass Ave, where the applicants provided evidence that apartment buildings like the Legacy, Arlington 360, and Brigham Square were utilizing 1 space/dwelling. HCA's 10 Sunnyside project was approved with 0.5 spaces/dwelling. Mr. Mongold says that HCA's Capitol Square apartments typically have 40% parking utilization. On the other hand, 117 Broadway has ten parking spaces for 14 dwellings, and nearly all of them are used.

Mr. Mongold asks how the affordable housing overlay would interact with the MBTA Communities multi-family overlay. Mr. Revilak sees the two overlay districts as mutually exclusive: you could build to one overlay or the other, or to the base district zoning.

(Jennifer Susse) Ms. Susse thinks this could be scary for the community, so it will be essential to have everyone on board, including the Redevelopment Board and Select Board. She thinks it's best if the public understands what tradeoffs are involved. She says there should be a place for the public to give feedback and feel heard. She asks if there's a fallback plan, in the event the proposal isn't ready in time for spring Town Meeting.

(Karen Kelleher) Ms. Kelleher says the group will have to consider whether or not to go forward in the spring.

(Phil Tedesco) Mr. Tedesco believes there's been a lot of good public input from the MBTA Communities process; we needed to see and understand how that ended in order to move forward with the overlay.

(Rebecca Gruber) Ms. Gruber says it will be crucial to educate Town Meeting Members, so they understand what's possible and what's not. She'd like them to come to the same logical conclusion as the overlay proponents would be presenting.

(Jennifer Susse) Ms. Susse says it's important for people to feel heard, to hear other people's view, and to walk away understanding the tradeoffs.

(Rebecca Gruber) Ms. Gruber notes that there was push-back to the MBTA Communities zoning because it wasn't an affordable housing proposal. She thinks an affordable housing overlay would be responsive to that criticism.

(Phil Tedesco) Mr. Tedesco says the subsidy pipeline imposes a natural limit on how quickly projects can be done, and how much can be built.

(Steve Revilak) Ms. Revilak asks Ms. Ricker if the affordability housing overlay would require notification of a map change.

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker says she'll look into this.

There's a motion that the AHTB approve the efforts to move forward, and work with the ARB to get something on the warrant in the spring. Motion passes, 4--0.