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A response to ARFRR on affordable housing


This letter to the editor was written by Ben Rudick, who lives on Webcowet Road, Arlington:

In recent issues, the Advocate has published letters by representatives from Arlington Residents for Responsible Redevelopment (ARFRR).  Included in those letters were arguments that we should cease all new construction, and that Arlington’s population should not grow. We at Arlington Neighbors for More Neighbors disagree with these points (we are, after all, Neighbors for MORE Neighbors).

However, we do agree with ARFRR on at least one thing: we desperately need more affordable housing.  

Some options

So what will give us the best bang for our buck?  

One option is new development. A typical affordable unit costs between $400,000 to $450,000 to produce, and this cost declines the more units you put in one building since you’re spreading out the cost of the land, foundation, walls, stairwells, etc.  

Another option is buying existing housing stock and converting it to affordable housing. This can be a great strategy: a community-development corporation in Chelsea just purchased a multifamily building that needs only modest rehabilitation and whose cost per unit is expected to be less than $300,000.  

ARFRR suggests that we should be buying existing single-family homes and making them permanently affordable. While this may work with particularly well-suited, low cost homes or condos, it is unlikely the cheapest option; the average single-family home in 2019 sold for $917,000. Further, we need affordable housing for a diverse demographic including the elderly, and they may prefer more accessible, more efficient homes with amenities such as elevators and ramp access which are typically lacking in single-family homes. 

Buying single-family homes can be one option of many, but it cannot be our only option.  

Finally, ARFRR argues that the only housing we should be creating is affordable housing. This leaves behind everyone who is not poor enough to qualify for income/asset restricted affordable housing, but not wealthy enough to afford market-rate housing. There are few subsidies for such "middle-income" housing, and there is vast need. According to a 2016 Urban Land Institute's report, "Building for the Middle," greater Boston needs "200,000 units, at a variety to price points, to prevent an increased housing cost burden and to moderate housing price escalation."

This is why Arlington Neighbors for More Neighbors is focused on making it legal to build less-expensive housing, such as accessory-dwelling units, as well as making it possible to build two-families on the 79 percent of our residential land currently reserved exclusively for single-family homes.

This letter was published Monday, Feb. 10, 2020. NOTE: The latest letters at WickedLocal, the online presence of The Advocate, are those of Jan. 30 and Jan. 23.

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