Arlington Redevelopment Board - Dec 16th, 2021

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Meeting held via remote participation. Materials were available from

Draft Housing Plan

The board had one item on tonight's agenda: a presentation and discussion on the town's Draft Housing Production Plan.

(Jenny Raitt, Planning Director) Ms. Raitt explains that this is part of the process to update the 2016 Housing Production Plan, which expired last month. Barrett Planning Group and Horsley-Witten were the consulting firms that worked on the draft. The work was done in sections, and the Housing Plan Implementation Committee worked with the planning department during the process.

(Judi Barrett, Barrett Planning Group) Ms. Barrett says that Horsley-Witten assisted with the analysis of regulatory barriers and environmental considerations.

This is an update to Arlington's existing Housing Production Plan, and it's designed to address DPCD (Department of Housing and Community Development) regulations. It includes a needs assessment, a set of housing goals, and implementation strategies. The report considers Arlington as part of a regional system. The goals section includes kinds of housing we could potentially see, along with production goals. It identifies potential zoning changes, possible sites for new housing in the community, and potential regional partnerships.

The report should satisfy DHCD regulations, address affordable housing needs, fit the market area, be equitable across income levels, and avoid concentrations of affordable housing in specific areas.

The process involved questionnaires, a tour of the town, interviews with focus groups, two rounds of meeting-in-a-box exercises (eight meetings in total), outreach at the Arlington farmer's market, three community forums, and a public mapping exercise. It also involved data gathering: market trends, demographic data, information about properties on the subsidized housing inventory (SHI), and analysis of barriers.

During the process, Ms. Barrett said she tried to answer a series of questions: what caused Arlington's housing challenges and what contributed to them; how can they be effectively addressed; and what resources are needed? These questions are common to any planning project.

Ms. Barrett say she found three overarching issues: (1) a shortage of affordable housing in Arlington, (2) limits to housing choice, and (3) limited capacity of town leadership.

The strategies suggested in the plan are intended to be within the capacity of the town. There is a shortage of affordable homes, and few options for first-time home-buyers. Older adults tend to be housing cost burdened, and the town doesn't have the regulatory or financial tools to reverse these trends.

Ms. Barrett moves to a discussion of HUD income limits and what is "affordable". HUD's income tiers are based on median incomes across a large area; they're not specific to any city or town. The tiers are moderate income (80% AMI), low-income (50% AMI), and extremely low-income (30% AMI).

For a household of one, moderate income is $70k/year ($1770 maximum affordable rent), low income is $47k/year ($1170 maximum affordable rent), and extremely low income is $28k/year ($720 maximum affordable rent). Ms. Barrett uses a household of one, because she feels it's representative of someone starting out in life as a young adult.

Examples of jobs that exist in Arlington, and their annual wages: bakers ($25k/year), retail workers ($41k/year), grocery store clerks ($31k/year), truck transportation drivers ($46k/year), childcare ($43k/year), and nursing and residential care ($39k/year).

The prevailing rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Arlington is $1600/month. The lower quartile is $1450/month, and the upper quartile is $1922 month. This is just within the reach of a moderate income single-person household, and well out of reach of low- and extremely low-income households.

Affordability goals include: increasing rental and ownership options for extremely low income, low income, and moderate income households; creating and preserving housing for persons with disabilities; and preserving the existing supply of affordable housing. Strategies for achieving these goals include: using the affordable housing trust fund (AHTF) to prove home-buyer assistance, loans, grants, and write downs; having the Arlington Housing Authority (AHA) do more with Section 8 vouchers; pursing capital grants for the AHA (via ARPA, the community preservation act, etc) so they can modernize and maintain their properties; enacting a short-term rental tax whose monies are directed to the AHTF; using CPA funds to acquire, develop, and support group homes; providing grants for the removal of architectural barriers; working with CASCAP to provide housing for people in recovery; and using general obligation bonds as a funding source.

Arlington has a number of impediments to housing choice. Much of Arlington's affordable housing is in former "definitely declining" zones, and there is little choice in single-family districts.

Arlington's zoning map took land uses from 50 years ago and froze them in place. A large part of the town (60% of the land area) allows only single-family homes. The apartment districts were meant to contain what existed years ago, and leadership for affordable housing has not been well-received.

Housing insecurity in Arlington disproportionately affects older residents, lower income residents, and persons of color. Most housing discrimination involves people with disabilities.

Some of the written comments on the draft report asked why it doesn't use income data from the 2020 census. The decennial census no longer has questions about income, so you can't get income information from the decennial census. Those questions are now in the American Community Surveys (ACS), and new ACS data won't be available until March or April.

Arlington household incomes vary by race and age. Households in their child-rearing years have the highest incomes and young adults have the lowest. Housing prices are out of sync with wage levels, and the town is experiencing a gradual loss of income and class diversity.

Arlington has not used tools like 40R and has opposed 40B. She says that 40B projects are what you get when you don't provide any other options.

Ms. Barrett moves on to the topic of fair housing. Fair housing means providing housing of all types and integrating affordable housing into all neighborhoods. It means providing housing choice and equitable access to green space when siting affordable homes. Strategies would include performing racial impact studies, expanding the amount of information the town has about properties on the SHI, and allowing two-family homes by right in all neighborhoods. The state zoning act puts single- and two-family homes on a level playing field, but our local bylaw does not. We could consolidate zoning districts to provide opportunities for parcel combination, allow missing middle housing near commercial centers, and remove regulatory barriers to multi-family housing, especially near transit.

Arlington could consider a 100% affordable housing overlay, especially along Mass Ave and Broadway; partner with non-profit developers; use the AHTF to purchase single-family homes and redevelop them as two-family; preserve existing parks and green space; audit parking requirements and design standards; and use green infrastructure to mitigate the effects of heat islands and stormwater runoff.

Advocacy for affordable housing is fragmented and not well-organized in Arlington, and there is no policy framework for increasing the amount of affordable housing in town.

In terms of building capacity, Arlington could build relationships with non-profit developers and Community Development Corporations (CDCs). We could consider establishing a community land trust (CLT); these are widely used in other parts of the country but not so much in the northeast. Martha's Vineyard is an example of a Massachusetts community that has used CLTs effectively.

We could work with CEDAC and LISC to identify CDCs to work with; educate people in town on the cost of developing and maintaining affordable housing; support tenant organizing efforts; and set annual housing goals.

Ms. Barrett says that cities and towns would never put an individual who opposes wetland protection on the conservation commissions; nor would they put someone who opposed historical preservation on the Historical Commission. However, they do put people who oppose housing on housing committees. She thinks it's important to have pro-housing people on housing committees. Town officials should encourage people to speak in favor of affordable housing at meetings, and to confront and address disinformation.

That's it for the presentation. It will be given to the Select Board in January and (if the plan is adopted by both boards) submitted to DHCD for approval.

(Rachel Zsembery, ARB Chair) Ms. Zsembery says that board members were asked to submit questions to herself and Kelly Lynema before tonight's meeting. She asks if Ms. Lynema could summarize themes that came up in the questions.

(Kelly Lynema, Assistant Planning Director) Ms. Lynema asks how inclusionary zoning could play a role, and why it wasn't mentioned in the plan.

(Judi Barrett) Ms. Barrett says the plan is more focused on planning and zoning techniques that are known to work, but aren't being used in Arlington. Arlington's zoning bylaw already has inclusionary zoning provisions.

(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema asks Ms. Barrett to talk about missing middle housing.

(Judi Barrett) Ms. Barrett says that if you're not going to provide 100% of the subsidy needed for affordable housing, then you'll need to use the market to subsidize it. You need enough units to make that subsidization possible, and allowing small apartments means you can get affordable housing a few units at a time. Missing middle creates housing choice, and spreads the land value across several units. Another option is taking a fees for the AHTF, and using that to subsidize missing middle housing.

(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema asks if Ms. Barrett could explain what a 100% affordable housing overlay is, and if there are variations that provide more of an income mix.

(Judi Barrett) Ms. Barrett says that the federal government walked away from subsidized housing in the 1980s and left it up to the market. You can't provide housing for 30--50% AMI levels without subsidies, but you can take 80% AMI housing and buy it down. She says that part of the plan is about affordable housing, and part is about housing choice. She stresses that it's not possible to build affordable housing without subsidies. As for affordable housing overlays, Cambridge's is the most notable and it's being watched nationally.

(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema says there was a question about ADUs; Arlington passed an ADU bylaw and Inspectional Services has gotten a few question about them, but there haven't been any ADU permits issued yet. There was another question about allowing housing in the industrial districts, and she wonders if Ms. Barrett could speak to that.

(Judi Barrett) Ms. Barrett is aware that Arlington adopted new zoning for the industrial district, and she says we'll have to wait and see how it works. That means monitoring what happens in the industrial district and seeing if the zoning changes produce something. If they don't do much, then it's worth going back and rethinking them.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery asks if board members have additional questions about the presentation.

(Melissa Tintocalis, ARB) Ms. Tintocalis has a question about the differences between 40B and 40R.

(Judi Barrett) Ms. Barrett says that 40R is an overlay district that allows higher density development in areas that are appropriate. It's an alternative to 40B. Units produced via 40R are counted on the SHI the same way as units produced under 40B. 40R is like a carrot to 40B's stick.

(Melissa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis asks if there's been an initiative to identify areas where a 40R district could work.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says this was investigated for the 2016 housing production plan, but not pursued.

(Melissa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis asks if Ms. Barrett can compare Arlington to other communities, and talk about employment factors.

(Judi Barrett) Ms. Barrett says she recently worked on a master plan for Hingham. From 2001 and 2020, there are a lot more people coming to Hingham for work, from a wider area. Hingham has become something of a retail mecca; people commute there to work retail jobs, but they don't live in the town. People who live in Hingham tend to commute to Boston for work, and they have higher paying jobs. She says you have to ask what kind of environment you're providing to people who want to live and work in town. She says there's a real disconnect between where people live and where they work.

(Melissa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis says she thinks a lot about creating that mix. Smart growth, jobs, and sustainability all dovetail together.

(Kin Lau, ARB) Mr. Lau understands that a 100% affordable housing overlay is a choice, but he'd prefer not to see all of the affordable housing clustered in one area. He asks if something like 30--40% affordable with density bonuses could work.

(Judi Barrett) Ms. Barrett says that's a policy choice. Mixed income works in the market. The plan suggests an 100% AHO in response to community input. A 100% affordable housing overlay does create concentrations, but all of the units are affordable. 40B is another side of that tradeoff -- it provides more mixed income and housing choice rather than affordability. These are options available to you as a community.

(Eugene Benson, ARB) Mr. Benson appreciates Ms. Barrett's earlier answer about the industrial zones. He thinks the report's suggestion for the industrial district lacks that amount of nuance, and there are other parts that are lacking in nuance as well. He'd like to be clear that these are just options. He's also interested in an affordable housing overlay with less than 100% affordability.

Mr. Benson believes inclusionary zoning needs to be part of the strategies and included in the package. As for allowing two-family dwellings in single-family zones, he doesn't see how that will get us to affordable housing or missing middle. He thinks there needs to be limitations on that.

(Judi Barrett) Ms. Barrett says that not everything in the plan is about affordable housing. It's also about choice, and that includes condominiums. She says that the Housing Corporation of Arlington had a successful program with purchasing two-family homes, but they're not allowed in 60% of the town.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson would like the report to clarify that the two-family recommendation is about housing choice. He notes that among comparable communities, we had the third lowest percentage of single-family homes, and the third highest percentage of two-family homes. He thought that was an interesting way to think about it. He says the ARB has had experiences that are contrary to some things in the report, like FAR limits in the business districts.

(Steve Revilak, ARB) Mr. Revilak has two questions and two comments; he'll start with the comments. He notes the report recommends siting affordable housing in a way that provides equitable access to green space. He hadn't thought of access to green space as an affordable housing issue before, and agrees that it's important to consider.

Second, is an anecdote about wages in town. A few years ago, Arlington put a debt exclusion on the ballot to pay for the new high school, and Mr. Revilak was active in that campaign. While knocking doors in one of the Arlington Housing Authority properties, one of the residents was very supportive and thanked him for encouraging people to support the new high school. She also said she was a teacher in Arlington's public schools. Mr. Revilak thinks that's a concrete example of the disconnect between wages paid in town and the cost of housing.

For questions, Mr. Revilak says that the report and presentation both refer to "definitely declining" areas. He asks if that's a reference to the yellow C-grade areas on the Homeowner Loan Corporation of America maps.

(Judi Barrett) Ms. Barrett says yes, it's a reference to the HOLC maps.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak suggests having the report say that directly; that it's a concrete example of the legacy of redlining in Arlington.

He asks if Ms. Barrett could explain what a Racial Impact Study is; this was something mentioned in the presentation.

(Judi Barrett) Ms. Barrett says that racial impact studies are a way to look at potential zoning changes -- who would benefit and who would be harmed. She says the report could include an example in the appendix, and that there will be a racial component to this.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says that a sample report would be helpful.

There are no more questions from the board, and the chair opens the hearing to public comment.

(Joanne Preston) Ms. Preston is a member of the housing authority board. She suggests the report provide more of a description of the role of the Arlington Housing Authority. She says that last year, the average rent paid by an AHA tenant was $480/month, and that the recommendations should realize that the housing authority doesn't have surplus land. She thinks that public housing should be in small buildings, not big ones. Residents need outdoor space for exercising, and they all need space for cars. Tearing down buildings will result in displacement. Ms. Preston says the housing authority would like to purchase more condos, which would make more housing available without having to engage in long-term construction.

(Jonathan Nyberg) Mr. Nyberg thinks that Ms. Barrett is telling us the truth, whether we like it or not. He says that Arlington thinks left, but generally doesn't live left. A new single-family home is likely to sell for over $2M, and we need to accept that reality. 60% of our land is in single family districts, and the reality is that we don't want to share. Allowing two-family homes in those districts is about choice, and there are huge issues we have to embrace. He notes that Arlington doesn't provide 40R as an option. Someone has to pay for affordable housing, so why not have the developer do that. Mr. Nyberg says that change is scary, and we have to include more people under 30 in this conversations. Fewer options will mean being more expensive and less inclusive.

(Patricia Worden) Ms. Worden says that the housing plan was not voted on or approved by the housing plan implementation committee, and she does not approve of the plan. She thinks the plan is a blueprint to attract developers to maximize profits, subsidize 40B, and lose diversity. She says the plan is an outright attack on us and our bylaws. There are three ways where it will achieve massive density. She says that 40B will cram more density into the town, and the plan disregards the Arlington Housing Authority. She thinks the plan is full of errors and lacks studies. She says the plan is just recycled failed material, and dangerous ideas like allowing two-family homes in single-family zones.

(Jordan Weinstein) Mr. Weinstein has two questions. First, could someone explain what the MBTA community regulations will require. In talking about affordable housing, it seems like we're talking about ownership and rental as if they're the same. Mr. Weinstein thinks that ownership and rental are different. He asks if we should be focusing on the development of rental housing rather than owned.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says the first draft of MBTA community guidance was only released yesterday, and there will be long public comment period. At this point, we're still learning what it entails. The regulations will probably apply to the area around the Alewife T station, and maybe the bus area in the heights. Once the guidelines are finalized, Ms. Raitt says we'll engage in a process to become compliant.

(Jordan Weinstein) Mr. Weinstein asks if Ms. Raitt can elaborate on what kind of changes we may have to make.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says it basically means allowing 15 units/acre of multifamily housing by right. She refers Mr. Weinstein to the state website for specific details.

Regarding ownership vs rental, we could use the AHTF to help first time home-buyers, if there are units for them to buy. She agrees that rental is different from ownership, but both are important. There's a lack of both ownership and rental units.

(Don Seltzer) Mr. Seltzer says that state guidelines for housing production plans require an analysis of infrastructure. Mr. Seltzer says that's not in the draft plan, and leaving it out is unacceptable. He says there's no assessment of the schools. Arlington's population is growing quickly and 80 new housing units will fill up a classroom. He thinks that $600--800k units are affordable to some residents, and that two-family homes won't create any affordable units at all. He thinks this plan will accelerate gentrification, and that the middle third of Arlington is already being squeezed out.

(Jennifer Susse) Ms. Susse thinks there's a wealth of information in the plan.

(I missed part of Ms. Susse's comments)

Ms. Susse would like to see more diversity in town. She understands that Cambridge's affordable housing overlay as allowing double the density in exchange for making 100% of the units affordable.

(Judi Barrett) Ms. Barrett says yes, it's basically double the density and more height.

(Rebecca Peterson) Ms. Peterson would like to talk about single-family zoning. She's tired of the obsession that some residents seem to have with getting rid of single-family zoning. Allowing two-family homes by right will do nothing for affordability. Condos in new two-family homes sell for $1M and up. She says that Arlington is popular for a variety of reasons, including it's suburban feel. She says her family bought a single-family home in a single-family district for a reason. She says that someone bought both condos in a two-family home down the street from her, knocked down the walls and turned it into a single family home; people want single-family homes. She says someone shouldn't impose their views on her family.

(Wynelle Evans) Ms. Evans thinks the draft characterizes people who question development as fearful. She's concerned about the loss of open space and schools. She says the town is spending far beyond its means and will be facing a $20M override. For a new two-family home, the sale price of each unit will be more than the single-family home it replaced. Allowing open space to be included on rooftops and balconies is just a privatization of open space. Trees are a huge asset. Ms. Evans says we have to look at the cost to our community of increased growth, and we need to see real dollars.

(Kristin Anderson) Ms. Anderson says it's good to see concerns for low-income housing housing. She says that Cambridge has a good balanced commercial tax base, and that the benefits to working and living in the same town are immense. She used to spend 415 hours/year commuting, but now she can walk or bike to work. Only a small number of people live and work in town. Ms. Anderson asks the board to please not change the business and industrial districts to residential.

(Elizabeth Dray) Ms. Dray has heard that getting rid of single-family zoning will help affordability, but notes that Ms. Barrett said it's more about providing choice. She'd like that to be clarified. She asks Ms. Barrett for three suggestions about what the town can do.

(Judi Barrett) Ms. Barrett says that allowing two-family homes everywhere is more about choice, though it may increase opportunities by increasing supply. If you don't want to make significant changes to a single-family district, then allowing two-family homes is a reasonable thing to do -- they tend to fit in. If you simply pick things out of the plan, then you don't have a strategy; but put them together and you do. Arlington has quite a few multi-family buildings, but some of them are in questionable shape. Sometimes, the question is how to get the most out of a lot. Not looking at allowing two-family homes everywhere would be missing an opportunity. That part is about choice, not affordability.

As for what the town can do, the Redevelopment Board and Select Board are the key boards to lead a discussion about policy. They'll have a lot of work to do. Select Boards typically set goals every year; one of those goals should be to implement something in the housing production plan. Implementation can fall short because the conversation stops when the plan is approved. Ms. Barrett thinks this is a matter of social fairness, and the town should make the case for why the best talents are needed for housing boards. She says that people who don't want affordable housing shouldn't be leading the implementation of a housing production plan.

(Bob Radocia) Mr. Radocia would like to know what an underutilized property is.

(Judi Barrett) Ms. Barrett says these are properties that aren't appreciating in value, or are partially vacant. They're properties that could be put to a higher value, higher tax-generating use.

(Karen Kelleher) Ms. Kelleher would like to talk about choice, affordability, and leadership. She says that affordable housing is a math problem that doesn't work; you need subsidies. Arlington has limited options for raising revenue. She says there are two ways to use local subsidies: use it to attract additional federal and state subsidies, or use it to cross subsidize the market. We permitted two 40B projects this year, which will create 60 units of affordable housing. That cost the town nothing. She asks if Ms. Barrett has any advice on how to resource affordable housing goals.

(Judy Barrett) Ms. Barrett says the Community Preservation Act Committee has invested in affordable housing, but some communities invest much more than Arlington. CPA money can be used to leverage other funding sources. Tax increment financing can be used. There are direct and indirect sources of funding, and you shouldn't be afraid to use tools like inclusionary zoning. Taking fees in lieu of affordable units can fund the AHTF and be used to provide deeper affordability.

(John Worden) Mr. Worden says he's looked at the plan, and if this were approved, it would destroy the town of Arlington as we know it. Who'd want that on their conscience? He hopes the ARB will reject or seriously amend the plan.

There are no more comments from the public.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery asks the board members if they have additional comments, and whether they feel we're ready for a vote tonight.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau says the CPA has been funding affordable housing every year, but under the laws they can only fund so much. He'd like to see a few changes to the draft plan before voting on whether to adopt. He's having issues with the recommendation for a 100% affordable housing overlay and doesn't want to see all of the affordable housing clustered together.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says that adopting the plan isn't a commitment to implement every strategy. She asks if would be okay for the board to explore further options.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says that plans typically include many strategies; it should be what we think is important.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson prefers not to vote tonight. He's concerned that once we adopt the plan, it might take on a life of its own. He'd like to see a second draft, with some refinements.

(Melissa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis thinks the plan and implementation strategy are sound, but she'd like some time to absorb the comments she heard tonight. She wants to make sure this will have an impact, and picking and pulling at little pieces won't necessarily do that.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak would like to ask a follow up question about Cambridge's 100% affordable overlay. He believes that it might be more accurate to call it 100% income restricted, where at least 80% of the dwellings are limited to households earning 80% of the area median income or less; the other 20% are still income-restricted but the restriction can be greater than 80% AMI. He asks Ms. Barrett if that's correct.

(Judi Barrett) Ms. Barrett answers in the affirmative.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak suggests the report could recommend an affordable housing overlay without the 100% qualifier. Overall, he thinks it's a good report, but there were a few areas where he'd like to see clarification, and he agrees with Mr. Benson's earlier comments about nuance. He thinks it's pretty close, but would like to see one more draft.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery asks about the timeline for producing a second draft.

(Judi Barrett) Ms. Barrett says she won't be able to work on it before Christmas week, but will be able to work on it then. She thinks she could have the revisions ready by January 5th. She's happy to address comments from the board, but may not incorporate every change that's been suggested.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says it's a good report. He says the intention isn't to delay and say no, but to delay and say yes.

(Judi Barrett) Ms. Barrett says that one of the reason towns do housing production plans is to attain temporary safe harbor. She says that Arlington has met safe harbor for a period, due to 1165R Mass Ave.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery suggests continuing this discussion at the January 24th ARB hearing. She notes that Mr. Benson and Mr. Revilak have submitted written comments, and encourages other board members to do so.

(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema says it would be helpful to set a deadline for receiving comments from the rest of the board. She says it would be great to have them by end-of-day on Monday.

Meeting adjourned.