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Comparing 40B affordable-housing numbers among Arlington, Lexington, Concord

Don Seltzer is an Arlington resident with a deep interest in housing and zoning issues. This opinion column is based on his own research. His sources are noted at the end. He is writing for himself and represents no group.

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In discussions about the merits of Chapter 40B, some have touted the success of Lexington and Concord in reaching the Department of Housing and Community Development’s goal of 10-percent affordable housing.

But have these towns really achieved that level?

The truth is that Lexington and Concord are nowhere near that goal in reality. About half of the units on the Subsidized Housing Inventory (SHI) list are not affordable at all, but actually full market-rate apartments.  

But the strange rules of the state’s SHI allows, and even encourages, this bizarre form of accounting. The secret is that for apartment buildings constructed under 40B, all of the units are counted on the SHI, even those that are rented out at full market rates.

Usually 1 affordable for every 4

Typically, a 40B project has only one affordable unit for every four built. This accounting results in the number of units that are counted on the SHI being inflated by a factor of four.

Lexington gets to claim 11.18-percent affordable housing by including 1,335 units. In reality, 657 of that total are full market rentals, and only 678 are actually under HUD income and rent restrictions.

In Concord, it is even more extreme. The town claims 10.54-percent affordability from its 722 supposedly affordable units. But more than half, 409, are full market rate, and only 313 are deed-restricted affordable.

In Arlington, we are currently credited with 1,252 units. Until last month, every single Arlington SHI listing was a genuine affordable unit. But with the recent approval of the Mirak project, the town gets to add 124 units to the SHI tally, even though 93 will be full market-rate units and only 31 actually affordable.

Arlington would be leader

If Arlington were to include only the real affordable units on the SHI, Arlington would be the leader.

Arlington: 5.83-percent real affordability;

Lexington: 5.68-percent real affordability; and

Concord: 4.57-percent real affordability.

A better way to measure how well our three communities are doing in achieving affordability is to consider land area. Lexington has more than three times the land area of Arlington. Concord is almost five times as large. Measuring by density, this is how they compare:

Arlington: 225 affordable units per square mile;

Lexington: 41 affordable units per square mile; and

Concord: 13 affordable units per square mile.

Affordable units

If Lexington and Concord were to build affordable housing at the same density as Arlington, they would have nine times as much affordable housing, 9,228 units, rather than just 991.

The proper question is: “Why can’t Lexington and Concord be more like Arlington?”

Arlington needn’t be shamed nor bullied into accepting 40B projects that result in three pseudo-SHI housing units for every real affordable unit. Our town's efforts are better directed toward encouraging and funding both the Arlington Housing Authority and the Housing Corporation of Arlington for the creation of 100-percent affordable housing.


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This viewpoint was published Wednesday, March 2, 2022. Sources:

DHCD rules for SHI accounting are here (see under section b. Rental & Assisted Living Facility) >>

See also links for Lexington >> and and Concord >> 

Do you agree? Disagree? Let the public know by posting your comments in the window below. You must include your full name.
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Comments

Guest - Thouis Jones on Thursday, 03 March 2022 15:07
Why measure per square mile?

The first part of this article makes a lot of sense. The second is not as clear.

Why is affordability per square mile the better measure? It seems like the intermediate result ("real affordability") is arguably just as good or better. Arlington is denser than Lexington and Concord, as it should be. We are closer to public transport. Building denser housing in Lexington would be worse for the environment than building it, e.g., near Alewife.

I think it makes more sense to push for an improvement to SHI accounting to use "real affordability." Arlington can and should do a better job of adding affordable housing.

The first part of this article makes a lot of sense. The second is not as clear. Why is affordability per square mile the better measure? It seems like the intermediate result ("real affordability") is arguably just as good or better. Arlington is denser than Lexington and Concord, as it should be. We are closer to public transport. Building denser housing in Lexington would be worse for the environment than building it, e.g., near Alewife. I think it makes more sense to push for an improvement to SHI accounting to use "real affordability." Arlington can and should do a better job of adding affordable housing.
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