Housing Plan Implementation Committee - Oct 21st, 2021

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Meeting held via remote participation. Materials were available from https://www.arlingtonma.gov/Home/Components/Calendar/Event/26103/18.

Tonight was my first meeting as an HPIC member; I'm the new Redevelopment Board designee.

Tonight, Judi Barrett and Alex Lanzillotta of Barrett Planning Group are here to give a presentation on draft goals for the housing production plan. There are ten of them. Ms. Barrett presents the list of goals.

Goal 1: Increase rental and home ownership housing options in Arlington for extremely-low to middle-income households.

This goal involves increasing housing options for low income, very low income, and extremely low income households while paying attention to cost burden. Approximately 29% of Arlington households would be classified as having low or moderate income.

Arlington's Affordable Housing Trust Fund (AHTF) could be leveraged to achieve this goal. MHP and MassHousing offer assistance to first time home buyers. The AHTF can be used to enhance these programs by writing down the purchase price. Housing Choice vouchers and ARPA funds for rental assistance are other options.

Goal 2: Preserve and maintain Arlington's existing supply of affordable homes to provide healthy, safe, and stable living environments.

A large number of Arlington's affordable homes are provided by the Arlington Housing Authority (AHA). During interviews, a number of people expressed concern about Housing Authority properties (which is not unusual for communities to do). Housing Authority funding is usually inadequate and unpredicatable, making it difficult to fund capital improvements.

Opportunities include ARPA grants to the AHA. We should also track the town's inventory of subsidized housing. A short-term rental tax could be a funding source for the AHTF. There are also CPA funds and general obligation funds (i.e., the town could use money from the general fund to subsidize affordable housing).

Goal 3: Provide equitable access to affordable home-ownership and rental homes suitable for a variety of household types, including senior households and families with children.

In this goal "variety of household types" includes seniors and families. Nearly half of Arlington's non-family households are considered low or moderate income. Ms. Barrett believes it would be helpful to have more details about homes on the town's subsidized housing inventory.

The town could consider reducing local preference in affordable housing lotteries. Arlington isn't a particularly diverse community, so local preference could work to prevent minorities from living in subsidized housing here.

The town could consider special tax agreements, like tax incentive financing, for developers that build affordable housing in town.

Goal 4: Create, maintain, and preserve permanent supportive housing that is affordable, accessible, and available to people with disabilities.

Housing for disabled populations came up several times during the interview process.

Arlington has few group homes. They account for approximately 6% of our SHI. There are no sober homes in Arlington.

Opportunities include acquiring and developing group homes for people with disabilities, along with barrier removal assistance (e.g., making homes wheelchair accessible).

Goal 5: Integrate affordable homes in all neighborhoods through reuse of existing structures and redevelopment of underutilized properties, particularly within walking distance of schools, public parks, services, amenities, and transit.

This goal involves looking at where the town's subsidized housing is located and asking "what is it close to". The idea is to equalize access. New affordable homes should have access to parks and transit, similar to the way existing market-rate homes do.

Opportunities include allowing missing-middle housing (two-, three-, and four-plexes) and adopting a 100% affordable housing overlay. Allow more choice within the housing production framework. Infill development can be funded with the AHTF and CPA. Consider establishing a community land trust (CLT). CLTs were key to affordable housing development on Martha's Vineyard.

Goal 6: Review and update Arlington's zoning and other housing policies to encourage development that increases affordable housing and fair housing choice.

The shape and size of our zoning districts make it difficult to develop more housing. Arlington's zoning map is unduly fragmented. Review dimensional and density regulations, especially where they make it difficult to add multifamily housing.

Opportunities include zoning more land for multi-family housing. Reduce fragmentation in the zoning map. Consider allowing two-family homes by right everywhere, and other measures to allow more missing middle homes. Educate people about fair housing.

Goal 7: Improve development opportunities along major corridors to include a greater mix of housing options.

The town could improve opportunities to develop along the main corridors. This will entail a conversation about density; that will be difficult but it has to be done. Again, Arlington's zoning map is very fragmented and the dimensional regulations aren't conducive to constructing multi-family housing. There really isn't a local entity that can acquire and combine parcels for larger developments. Monitor the effects of mixed-use development, and consider allowing upper story and ground-floor units in small apartments. The AHTF, CPA, and CLTs can be use to further these efforts.

Goal 8: Increase capacity to produce housing through leadership development, advocacy, staffing, funding, and relationships with nonprofit and for-profit developers.

The needs assessment indicates there's advocacy for housing, but it's limited. There's a need to address public misinformation, and address the ever present "I support affordable housing, BUT ....". During hearings, board members need the ability to separate valid concerns from mythology.

The town can build relationships with more non-profit developers and CDCs. Identify new CDCs that might be willing to work in Arlington. Sponsor developer round tables. Educate people about what it costs to build and manage housing, affordable housing included.

Goal 9: Build awareness of affordable and fair housing needs within Arlington and the larger region, as well as Arlington's role in addressing broader inequities.

Address misconceptions and stereotypes about housing, affordable housing, development, and developers. This will require education and training. Help people to build confidence to testify at hearings and town meeting. Recruit affordable housing advocates to serve on boards and committees.

Consider holding "regional panel of expert" forums. Other communities are having the same issues as Arlington.

Support efforts to organize tenants rights groups.

Goal 10: Make equitable access to shared green spaces and a healthy living environment a priority for siting affordable homes.

Site new homes so they have access to community benefits like parks and green space. Conserve public open space and conservation land. Audit parking requirements and standards (e.g., to reduce the amount of impervious parking surface required). Add green infrastructure.

That's the end of the presentation, and we move to a discussion among committee members.

(Judi Barrett) When inviting people to serve on committees, Ms. Barrett feels that personal invitations are key. People are more likely to respond to one-on-one communications than (say) a broadcast email.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak would like to see a map of where Arlington's subsidized units are located. He knows where the Housing Authority's properties are, and where some of HCA's buildings are located. He's interested in knowing whether the other homes are evenly disbursed throughout town, or concentrated in specific pockets.

(Karen Kelleher) Ms. Kelleher believes it's important to have numeric goals. For example, if Arlington added 99 affordable homes per year, we'd get to 10% SHI in approximately ten years. We should also think about how these properties are marketed. When marketing them, we should try to reach a broad population.

(Judi Barrett) Ms. Barrett says that Newton provides an example of how marketing matters. Most affordable housing tenants there are white people from Newton, rather than people who lived outside the city. Local marketing tends to give preference to local residents. Another factor is pricing vs where the needs are. Communities can use things like AHTF or CPA to reduce costs, to more closely align with needs.

Ms. Barrett mentions a technical point about numeric goals. After the 2000 census, a number of communities found themselves having less than 10% SHI because the added housing but not affordable housing. Meeting that 10% goal gives municipalities the option of denying a comprehensive permit. Some of the 2020 census numbers that are necessary to set housing production goals haven't been finalized. Until they're available, communities can continue to use 2010 census numbers, or estimate what their 2020 numbers are likely to be.

(Patricia Worden) Ms. Worden thinks that public education should start with town leadership. She claims that town leadership opposes affordable housing.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak agrees with Ms. Kelleher about the importance of having numeric goals, but he questions whether 10% is the right number. 10% is the safe harbor threshold under Chapter 40B. Earlier in the presentation, we learned that Arlington's SHI is around 5.5% while 29% of our households are low/moderate income. There's a big gap between 5% and 29%. While the gap between 10% and 29% is smaller, it's still pretty big.

(Karen Kelleher) Ms. Kelleher points out that 2021 is an example of how Arlington can produce more than 100 affordable units in a year. We approved a comprehensive permit for 1165R Mass Ave, and the Housing Corporation of Arlington brought several new properties online. There's another comprehensive permit pending, for senior housing at Thorndike Place. We'll need a long-term plan that's aggressive. Regarding leadership, Ms. Kelleher asks if there's a plan to give this presentation to the other groups, like the Select Board, Redevelopment Board, Zoning Board of Appeals, and Community Preservation Act Committee?

(Patricia Worden) Ms. Worden says that town leadership has been short-changed in the past. She believes that two-family by right is here, because town meeting passed a "dreadful" accessory dwelling unit bylaw. She thinks this will turn Arlington into a two-family town -- it's already here. She believes the planning department doesn't support affordable housing because they didn't support a citizen petition for teardown moratorium.

(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema tells Patricia that the Planning Department does not oppose affordable housing.

(Len Diggins) Mr. Diggins asks if it would be useful to consider transit needs, and encourage more transit oriented development.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak wants to say a few things about the ADU bylaw that town meeting recently passed. He reviewed several drafts of the language and provided feedback to the petitioners. Some provisions in the bylaw were added specifically to give the Housing Corporation of Arlington the opportunity to add ADUs to their two-family homes. Single family detached homes are the most common type of housing in Arlington. Over the last few months these have been selling for around $1M each; some are a little more, some are a lot more, and some are a little less. But as a round number, it costs about a million bucks to buy a single family home in Arlington. Not everyone can afford to spend that much money to put a roof over their heads. ADUs are smaller and less expensive than single-family homes, and having options like that is important. Steve also likes Mr. Diggins's suggestion for transit oriented development. He thinks we should avoid imposing a "car tax" -- needing a car to live here -- where ever possible.

That's it for board discussion, and we move to public comment.

(Rebecca Gruber) Ms. Gruber notes that achieving these goals will require warrant articles to come before town meeting. She's concerned that we'll miss the window for spring town meeting. She asks if there's something we could start crafting now.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says we're still working on goals, and haven't gotten to the point of writing warrant article to implement them. Ms. Raitt says that the Zoning Bylaw Working Group and Arlington Redevelopment Board are interested in meeting with citizens that have ideas for zoning articles. She agrees that the timing is challenging.

(JoAnn Preston) Ms. Preston says the Arlington Housing Authority has the oldest low-income housing in Arlington. The family housing in Menotomy Manor is over 70 years old, and it will need renovations. There's been a retreat from public housing, starting with the Reagan administration in the 1980s. The AHA makes special contributions. They have homes for adults with developmental disabilities and have purchased condos to house victims of domestic violence. AHA has the capacity to add housing, and they'd like to add more two bedroom condos for victims of domestic violence. But the authority needs money for that. Buying units is cheaper than building. Regarding residents with disabilities, 18.5% of public housing has to be for people with disabilities. But people stay in those units, so the need grows. Arlington has more public housing per capita than many of our surrounding communities.

(Kristin Anderson) Ms. Anderson applauds the group's concern for low and moderate income households. She also supports leveraging CDCs, to the extend that they're non-profit organizations. One of the slides mentioned affordable housing in former industrial properties; Ms. Anderson asks for elaboration on that.

(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema says that would be subject to restrictions on housing in the industrial district. In other words, affordable live/work housing for artists.

(Judi Barrett) Ms. Barrett says the underlying idea is to take advantage of opportunities where you have them.

(Kristin Anderson) Ms. Anderson believes that changing commercial uses to residential will make the town less walkable. She notes that there aren't many jobs in Arlington, and she's opposed to reducing the opportunity to create jobs.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak wants to provide a short historical context to Arlington's commercial zoning. Prior to the 1970's, Arlington has decently-sized commercial districts. The business districts were two thick bands that ran along both sides of Mass Ave and Broadway. Our industrial district ran along the Boston Maine Railroad (now Minuteman Bikeway), all the way from Arlington Center to the Lexington line. In the 1970's, we rezoned most of the business and industrial districts to residential. In other words, Arlington has a limited opportunity to create jobs because we wiped most of our commercial districts off the map. But, we can put them back if we want to.

(Patricia Worden) Ms. Worden says that if we don't learn from the past, we'll just make the same mistakes. She thinks the town should have supported the moratorium on teardowns.

Meeting adjourned.