UPDATED Nov. 16: An ambitious plan aimed at creating 100 affordable homes in five years here has met with unanimous approval from the Select Board. The vote at the Nov. 7 meeting was 4-0, with Diane Mahon absent.
“This triples our production, which we think we can achieve with the cooperation of our partners,” said Karen Kelleher, chair of Arlington’s affordable-housing trust board.
She presented the five-year (2022–2027) plan at the meeting. See the links to the agenda documents here >>
“We are intentionally engaging with other town bodies that are interested in housing. Many stakeholders will need to be involved, who approved the final draft in October,” said Kelleher. To download the final draft of the plan, click here >>
Kelleher enumerated the plan’s three strategies. “These are ambitious -- but realistic -- goals to effect long-term affordable strategies. The key point is the need to collaborate and innovate with other town bodies and organizations.”
How the trust plans to succeed
Strategy 1: Preserve and/or modernize existing affordable housing ― Complete a town inventory of all affordable housing and work with existing owners to assess when they’re going to need funding that they might otherwise lack access to, so that those needs can be planned. Actions include affordable inventory, property assessments and a preservation plan.
Strategy 2: Create additional affordable housing ― This requires that the subsidy be financially feasible; $400,000 to $500,000 is required per rental unit. However, with experience and planning, there are ways to stretch dollars. Affordable housing can be subsidized by either leveraging state and federal subsidies or by getting developers to pay for it.
Kelleher explained that Arlington needs sites for new construction or for acquisition and conversion, to create additional affordable housing. Predictable permitting must be provided for mission-aligned affordable housing, and funding is also needed, she said.
She suggested that the town can issue requests for quotes to developers interested in creating needed affordable housing and encourage mixed-income home ownership to get developers to meet this study need. (Mixed-income developments involve market-rate and affordable housing.)
To reach the goal of 100 affordable homes in five years, she said that actions should include predictable permitting, identifying potential sites, financial support, developer RFQs and mixed-income ownership.
Strategy 3: Build the financial strength of the trust ― Creating and preserving affordable housing is a long-term and costly investment; the early funding sources available to the trust are critical to the execution of this initial plan. It is recommended to generate revenue from activities in town. Actions include a transfer fee/alternate source, cannabis sales, short-term rental money, developer payments, an annual town process and a private giving strategy.
Affordable housing refers to housing units that are affordable by that section of society whose income is below the median household income.
In Massachusetts, to qualify for affordable housing, households must typically earn no more than 80 percent of average median income. However, this criteria may change annually or by region. Rent recipients pay 25 percent of their income for rent including some utilities or 30 percent of their income for rent if all utilities are included in the rent. The amount of rent is subject to limitations.
Select Board feedback
Chair Len Diggins praised the report, saying: “It’s a good outreach effort, and impressive in breadth.”
Eric Helmuth said that this process has wisely involved listening hard and reaching out to many stakeholders. “We have to work together to reach our goals,” he said. “We need more affordable housing, and it’s a big math problem, because it’s expensive to build so many to scale. We have to be realistic about what kind of public money is available to support these, and how we leverage it. We have to balance this with the ability to maintain services.”
John Hurd said, “This has been on the top of residents’ minds and the town’s goals because there’s a dramatic need for it. A smart, efficient workforce can support affordable housing units. We want people to know that Arlington is a friendly place for people to come and submit a proposal. If we can work toward letting developers know this, this is a great framework for us to work together.”
Steve DeCourcey said that the document is helpful in identifying principles and needs. “We need to coordinate among residents and different departments in leveraging resources, so we can know the condition of our properties to maintain existing affordable housing resources, and I suggest we find additional resources."
Watch the entire Nov. 7 meeting on ACMi:
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This news summary by YourArlington freelance writer Susan Gilbert was published Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022, and updated later that day to explain "mixed-income developments" and "affordable housing."
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