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8th graders call for changes in town bylaw to boost affordable housing

UPDATED May 26: The following opinion was sent to all Town Meeting members three days after the 2023 annual meeting ended. Signing it were Pavia Christiana, Calvin Cheung, Collin Burrell, Theo Ginggen, Dorsey Mitchell and Lorenzo Hamlin. It was published with the authors' permission. 

Arlington vua Google Earth: Your Town, Your Future

We hope this email finds all of you in good health and spirits. We are Ottoson Middle School students, concerned about the issue of affordable housing in the town.

There is a lack of affordable multifamily homes, and we are advocating for a change in zoning bylaws to allow for more of these homes, and for them to have access to public transportation.

We believe that spreading multifamily homes around town will create more ethnic diversity in Arlington Public Schools. Additionally, this aids Arlington's economy by creating job diversity and benefiting the town's gross domestic product.

After extensive research, we have identified two propositions regarding the amendment of zoning bylaws. One is to create a new district that allows for the construction of multifamily homes. This will create a block of lower income housing that will theoretically help house more people who have lower income. It may, however, create a feeling of separation between single-family and multifamily zones. The other proposal is to create pockets of multifamily housing zones around public transportation.

This would mix in more affordable housing into single-family zones and encourage increased diversity. It would also allow for more residents who heavily rely on public transportation to move into Arlington. Many people who rely on public transportation don’t have the means or budget to purchase a car. These are also often the people who have lower income and are often relegated to certain areas due to their housing budget.

Currently, Arlington has a high housing demand due to its location near Boston and easy access to public transportation. This amendment would address this demand while also creating economic diversity.

The resolution of this issue ultimately comes down to the beliefs and desires of the people. It has been well voiced that many members of the community support the ratification of these amendments. However, despite the overwhelming benefits of these spread-out pockets of two-family homes, there are still community members who think otherwise on
which amendment is more beneficial.

We all sincerely hope you will consider pressing this more and getting more beneficial action done regarding this important topic. It will benefit the community as a whole overall and make the overall community of Arlington more diverse.

Thank you for the time you generously put into reading this letter, and we look forward to hopefully seeing this amendment passed in the near future.

If you have any questions, feel free to email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Please consider supporting pockets of multifamily housing by right under Section 3A of Mass. General Laws Chapter 40A. Find it here >>


May 23, 2023: '23 meeting ends as session 7 OKs Ottoson students' compost plan, CPA


This viewpoint was published Wednesday. May 24, 2023. It was updated May 26, to correct the headline, reporting that this is a local-bylaw effort, not a state matter.

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Comments

Guest - Jordan Weinstein on Friday, 26 May 2023 12:22
My response to the Ottoson students on May 19, 2023

Hi Pavia and friends!

Thanks for writing and I first want to commend you all for your interest, work and research into this complex subject that is fraught with many assumptions and opinions but little actual data or statistical evidence.

In reading your email, I am afraid I have to tell you that you have unfortunately fallen prey to a widespread misunderstanding that Section 3A calls for the building of “affordable” housing that would increase Arlington’s diversity in education, jobs and residential areas. The sad fact is that nothing in Section 3A (otherwise known as the MBTA Communities act) talks about or addresses “affordability” in its call for the construction of new multi-family homes.

There is good reason for this misunderstanding. It is based on an unproven assumption that simply building more housing will force the prices of housing to fall by increasing the supply of homes. It’s the old “supply and demand” theory of how markets should work. The problem with housing at this time is that there is so little supply (because the federal government got out of the business of building low-income housing decades ago) and so much demand for housing, that it’s not clear if prices would actually drop even if more homes were built at the rate the real estate industry usually builds housing. There’s just no proof that this anticipated fall in prices would happen. There are few case studies of other communities to use for comparison. And there is quite a bit of evidence that just the opposite can happen. So, from a scientific point of view, there’s no “there” there.

As we have seen time and time again here in Arlington, when single-family homes are torn down and replaced with two townhouse condos (those side-by-side entrances) the condos tend to sell for upwards of $1-million each. In such cases, the parcel of land that had one dwelling unit now has 2 dwelling units…but the cost of those units remain very, very high and not “affordable” despite the “supply and demand” market theory. And, under Section 3A, there’s just no requirement that any portion of the new units built must be “affordable.” Instead, there’s a “leap of faith” that simply building more units will result in lower prices for housing. Is this a valid theory? Is it wishful thinking? Is it proven elsewhere? No one can actually say.

So who is actually benefitting from such increased dwelling unit production? It would seem that those who sell and develop the houses would be the ones guaranteed to profit from this trend. Those buying or renting homes can only wait and see what actually comes of it. My concern with Section 3A and its mandate for more multi-family housing is that it is being falsely promoted as an “affordable housing” program when it is not. I think it’s wishful thinking.

Historically (and even today) truly “affordable housing” was built and financed by government in one way or another. In Arlington we have two agencies that do this: the Arlington Housing Authority and the Housing Corporation of Arlington. We also recently created the Affordable Housing Trust Fund to help with the costs of building “affordable housing” in our Town.

The federal government once funded low-income housing across the country that was specifically built to be affordable to low-income families. But over time, this federal source of funding shrank, putting the burden for funding low-income housing on state and local government. This led to attempts to use “the market” to solve what is really a social problem created by the inadequacy of our free-enterprise economy to provide for poor people. So the idea of “just build more housing” to solve the problem, is one of those market-based “solutions” designed to solve an economic and societal shortcoming that, really, can only be solved by federal, government action and policy.

I wish it were not the case, but I think that what I have laid out above is the sad truth. I would suggest you all read this 2018 study of actual case histories of communities that have enacted strategies to lower their housing costs. In reading it you will see that in case after case, what was assumed would happen didn’t and vice versa. And it all depends on each community’s unique characteristics. The study is called Supply Skepticism: Housing Supply and Affordability. I highly recommend it. And I wish you all the best in your educational, professional and personal pursuits.

Sincerely,
Jordan Weinstein
Town Meeting Member, precinct 21

Hi Pavia and friends! Thanks for writing and I first want to commend you all for your interest, work and research into this complex subject that is fraught with many assumptions and opinions but little actual data or statistical evidence. In reading your email, I am afraid I have to tell you that you have unfortunately fallen prey to a widespread misunderstanding that Section 3A calls for the building of “affordable” housing that would increase Arlington’s diversity in education, jobs and residential areas. The sad fact is that nothing in Section 3A (otherwise known as the MBTA Communities act) talks about or addresses “affordability” in its call for the construction of new multi-family homes. There is good reason for this misunderstanding. It is based on an unproven assumption that simply building more housing will force the prices of housing to fall by increasing the supply of homes. It’s the old “supply and demand” theory of how markets should work. The problem with housing at this time is that there is so little supply (because the federal government got out of the business of building low-income housing decades ago) and so much demand for housing, that it’s not clear if prices would actually drop even if more homes were built at the rate the real estate industry usually builds housing. There’s just no proof that this anticipated fall in prices would happen. There are few case studies of other communities to use for comparison. And there is quite a bit of evidence that just the opposite can happen. So, from a scientific point of view, there’s no “there” there. As we have seen time and time again here in Arlington, when single-family homes are torn down and replaced with two townhouse condos (those side-by-side entrances) the condos tend to sell for upwards of $1-million each. In such cases, the parcel of land that had one dwelling unit now has 2 dwelling units…but the cost of those units remain very, very high and not “affordable” despite the “supply and demand” market theory. And, under Section 3A, there’s just no requirement that any portion of the new units built must be “affordable.” Instead, there’s a “leap of faith” that simply building more units will result in lower prices for housing. Is this a valid theory? Is it wishful thinking? Is it proven elsewhere? No one can actually say. So who is actually benefitting from such increased dwelling unit production? It would seem that those who sell and develop the houses would be the ones guaranteed to profit from this trend. Those buying or renting homes can only wait and see what actually comes of it. My concern with Section 3A and its mandate for more multi-family housing is that it is being falsely promoted as an “affordable housing” program when it is not. I think it’s wishful thinking. Historically (and even today) truly “affordable housing” was built and financed by government in one way or another. In Arlington we have two agencies that do this: the Arlington Housing Authority and the Housing Corporation of Arlington. We also recently created the Affordable Housing Trust Fund to help with the costs of building “affordable housing” in our Town. The federal government once funded low-income housing across the country that was specifically built to be affordable to low-income families. But over time, this federal source of funding shrank, putting the burden for funding low-income housing on state and local government. This led to attempts to use “the market” to solve what is really a social problem created by the inadequacy of our free-enterprise economy to provide for poor people. So the idea of “just build more housing” to solve the problem, is one of those market-based “solutions” designed to solve an economic and societal shortcoming that, really, can only be solved by federal, government action and policy. I wish it were not the case, but I think that what I have laid out above is the sad truth. I would suggest you all read this 2018 study of actual case histories of communities that have enacted strategies to lower their housing costs. In reading it you will see that in case after case, what was assumed would happen didn’t and vice versa. And it all depends on each community’s unique characteristics. The study is called Supply Skepticism: Housing Supply and Affordability. I highly recommend it. And I wish you all the best in your educational, professional and personal pursuits. Sincerely, Jordan Weinstein Town Meeting Member, precinct 21
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