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What is 'naturally occurring affordable housing'?

The following letter was published in The Boston Globe on Thursday, Dec. 19, under the headline "Arlington can’t wait for affordable housing to just ‘naturally occur’"and is republished with the permission of the the author, Eugene B. Benson. The writer’s views expressed here are his own, and are not offered on behalf of the Arlington Redevelopment Board, of which he is a member: 

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The Dec. 12 letter from Jo Anne Preston unfortunately repeats misinformation making the rounds in Arlington (“Arlington is a case study in grappling with rezoning”).  I write in rebuttal.

At April Town Meeting, the Arlington Redevelopment Board recommended a vote of no action on its warrant article that would have allowed increased density along the town’s commercial corridors in exchange for building more affordable housing (known as “incentive zoning”), when it became obvious that the article would be unlikely to gain a two-thirds vote for passage, in part because of the complexity of what was proposed.

A warrant article to allow accessory dwelling units in existing housing (“in-law apartments”) gained more than 60 percent of the vote at Town Meeting but not the two-thirds vote necessary to change zoning.

The letter writer mentioned “naturally occurring affordable apartment buildings.” The typical monthly rent for an apartment in those older buildings ranges from about $1,700 for a one-bedroom to about $2,300 for a two-bedroom, according to real estate data from CoStar. Those are not affordable rents for lower-income people. For example, a senior couple with the national average Social Security income of about $2,500 per month would spend most of their income just to pay the rent.

We need to protect the ability of people with lower incomes to withstand rent increases and gentrification. That, however, requires a different approach than hoping for naturally occurring affordable housing to be there even five years from now.


This letter was republished Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019.


The following letter was published in The Boston Globe on Thursday, Dec. 12, under the headline "Arlington is a case study in grappling with rezoning" and is republished with the permission of the the author, Jo Anne Preston, a member of Arlington Residents for Responsible Redevelopment:

Only on one point do I agree with Tim Logan: Housing policy, in the form of zoning, is currently determined by those who know the community best, i.e., local governmental bodies.

On many other points, and certainly on as many facts, we disagree. Let’s start with the author’s statement that “a vocal minority can block zoning changes supported by a majority of a city council or town meeting’s members.” Following this statement, Logan claims that “that is what has happened” in Arlington.

Not in Arlington. At last spring’s Town Meeting, following testimony after testimony from residents with considerable expertise in this field, the vast majority of the elected members voted “no action” to an array of dramatic rezoning proposals.

Among the many unwanted consequences of these zoning changes would have been the rezoning of parts of Arlington where we have naturally occurring affordable apartment buildings. Enabled by these zoning changes, developers would have razed these buildings and replaced them with luxury apartments, while displacing tenants who do not have the economic means to rent the new apartments.


This letter was republished Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019.


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Bob Sprague on Saturday, 21 December 2019 14:52
Posting for Patricia Worden

Patricia B. Worden of Arlington posted the following as a comment to Eugene Benson's letter in The Boston Globe republished above. She has sent it to YourArlington. She is a Town Meeting member, the former chair Arlington Housing Authority; a former charter member, Arlington Human Rights Commission, and member, Arlington Housing Plan Implementation Committee:


It is remarkable that the Boston Globe published this letter from Eugene Benson criticizing a Globe December 12 letter on affordable housing without checking the accuracy or rather lack thereof of Mr. Benson’s comments.

The warrant article which he and the Arlington Redevelopment Board inserted to increase housing density along the Town’s commercial corridors claimed that it would lead to increased affordable units as a result of our Arlington’s Inclusionary Zoning Bylaw which requires an affordable unit in a development of 6 units. But it would certainly not have increased affordable units The ARB warrant article altered the lot size required for a development to 5,000 sq. ft. which, together with other dimensional regulations would result in no more than 5 units allowing the developer to avoid providing any affordable units.

Mr. Benson did not give advisory support as he could have as a ARB member at Town Meeting for approval of a substitute motion to increase the percentage of affordable units required by our Inclusionary Zoning Bylaw.

In addition, Mr. Benson supported giving “density bonuses” to developers whether or not they provided any affordable units. The damaging ARB warrant article provisions were voted No Action at Town Meeting by an overwhelming majority.

And, Yes, we do have “naturally occurring affordable housing” in Arlington as has been made clear by occupants of such at a recent Select Board meeting. It is such residents who could have been irreparably damaged by Mr. Benson’s ARB warrant article.

Mr. Benson has given plenty of lip service to affordable housing but clearly his actions could have done it much damage. He has adamantly opposed any affordability requirement whatsoever for Accessory Dwelling Units which was another article the ARB inserted in the warrant and was enthusiastically supported by developers who envision elimination of single family districts and more teardown possibilities. (Homes in Arlington can create a separate in-law apartment under its current zoning with the exception that the second unit cannot have a permanently installed stove – there is no need for an ADU bylaw). Since ARB’s bylaw would enable sky high rents many residents did not support it and it failed to get the necessary two-thirds approval at Town Meeting. Mr. Benson was very much against getting “affordable rents for lower-income people” in ADUs despite his intimations to the contrary in his letter to the Globe. The two-thirds requirement for approval was very important in defeating this article since some developers and realtors were actively promoting it. Of course there are important additional arguments against it. See a short discussion --- http://bit.ly/340jyKz

And so I agree with Mr. Benson that we do “need to protect the ability of people with lower incomes to withstand rent increases and gentrification.” However his activities have been leading in exactly the opposite direction. One hopes he can change direction.


[b]Patricia B. Worden of Arlington posted the following as a comment to Eugene Benson's letter in The Boston Globe republished above. She has sent it to YourArlington. She is a Town Meeting member, the former chair Arlington Housing Authority; a former charter member, Arlington Human Rights Commission, and member, Arlington Housing Plan Implementation Committee:[/b] It is remarkable that the Boston Globe published this letter from Eugene Benson criticizing a Globe December 12 letter on affordable housing without checking the accuracy or rather lack thereof of Mr. Benson’s comments. The warrant article which he and the Arlington Redevelopment Board inserted to increase housing density along the Town’s commercial corridors claimed that it would lead to increased affordable units as a result of our Arlington’s Inclusionary Zoning Bylaw which requires an affordable unit in a development of 6 units. But it would certainly not have increased affordable units The ARB warrant article altered the lot size required for a development to 5,000 sq. ft. which, together with other dimensional regulations would result in no more than 5 units allowing the developer to avoid providing any affordable units. Mr. Benson did not give advisory support as he could have as a ARB member at Town Meeting for approval of a substitute motion to increase the percentage of affordable units required by our Inclusionary Zoning Bylaw. In addition, Mr. Benson supported giving “density bonuses” to developers whether or not they provided any affordable units. The damaging ARB warrant article provisions were voted No Action at Town Meeting by an overwhelming majority. And, Yes, we do have “naturally occurring affordable housing” in Arlington as has been made clear by occupants of such at a recent Select Board meeting. It is such residents who could have been irreparably damaged by Mr. Benson’s ARB warrant article. Mr. Benson has given plenty of lip service to affordable housing but clearly his actions could have done it much damage. He has adamantly opposed any affordability requirement whatsoever for Accessory Dwelling Units which was another article the ARB inserted in the warrant and was enthusiastically supported by developers who envision elimination of single family districts and more teardown possibilities. (Homes in Arlington can create a separate in-law apartment under its current zoning with the exception that the second unit cannot have a permanently installed stove – there is no need for an ADU bylaw). Since ARB’s bylaw would enable sky high rents many residents did not support it and it failed to get the necessary two-thirds approval at Town Meeting. Mr. Benson was very much against getting “affordable rents for lower-income people” in ADUs despite his intimations to the contrary in his letter to the Globe. The two-thirds requirement for approval was very important in defeating this article since some developers and realtors were actively promoting it. Of course there are important additional arguments against it. See a short discussion --- http://bit.ly/340jyKz And so I agree with Mr. Benson that we do “need to protect the ability of people with lower incomes to withstand rent increases and gentrification.” However his activities have been leading in exactly the opposite direction. One hopes he can change direction.
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