Steve Berczuk gives his perspective on Arlington Five-Year Housing Plan Update Project, which will be considered on Monday, January 24 by the Redevelopment Council.

Recent drafts of the housing plan have drawn critical reactions. While acknowledging that the plan has important goals, they consist almost entirely of problems with the plan, without suggesting improvements. Don Seltzer’s recent column is typical of this. It raises some concerns, but does not represent exactly what the plan says or suggest ways to address the concerns. It is easy to find flaws in a proposed solution to a difficult problem. Providing options takes more work.

No Plan Will Be Ideal If you share the goal of finding ways Arlington can do its part to solve the housing crisis, the way forward is to identify opportunities for improvement or even questions to ask. As moderator of Arlington Neighbors Facebook Group for More Neighbors Over the past two years, I’ve learned a few key things: housing policy is complex, housing demand is regional, there’s always more to learn, and the best way to solve problems is through open dialogue, stimulating, curious, which integrates facts and critical reflection in addition to emotion and anecdote.

Verification of certain facts

A helpful critique should also keep the facts straight. For example, Seltzer says the plan does not address infrastructure issues, especially calling for potential growth in the school population if we add housing stock. There are discussions of household size (and school-age population) throughout the document. Adding housing may eventually cause more families to move into town – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but those families may not cause schools to expand capacity based on housing plan projections. This conversation can help us understand how our values ​​and goals align.

The question of how we want to support housing opportunities for families with children compared to other groups is important and is related to the question of what combination of housing we should add. The type of housing we add could also influence the composition of the population. For example, if we added more one-bedroom apartments or more senior housing, it would not increase the school population, but would affect community dynamics, of which schools are an important part. Additionally, the enrollment projections in the report suggest that we have sufficient capacity in our schools.

A related problem that critics of the plan overlook: the lack of options in our housing stock. Arlington is primarily zoned for single-family dwellings, which means it is not easy to build multi-family dwellings or apartments. This exacerbates the housing shortage, as people who choose to rent or buy in the city end up with homes that are bigger than they need or want.

It’s true that universal R2 zoning and more multi-unit buildings won’t meet the same affordability needs as subsidized options, like 40B. Yet these options will fill an important gap and make it easier for people to stay in the city if they want or need to downsize their accommodation.

Look for R2 changes that don’t seem problematic

The plan points out that “many Arlington residents seem resistant to the idea that their own zoning bylaw acts as a barrier to affordable housing,” so excluding zoning changes that might alleviate the situation does not help. If you oppose citywide R2 zoning, discuss the kinds of changes that don’t seem problematic. Housing stock diversity (people living in two bedrooms when they really wanted one) and capacity are also part of the housing crisis in the area, in addition to affordability (low and market rates). And each of them is affected by zoning.

Another recurring theme in these conversations is that people confuse or confuse the different meanings of affordability. This is understandable because “affordable” means different things in different contexts and the policy definition does not always match the common language definition. But this difference in understanding could be an opening for solution-focused discussion rather than a way to close the debate.

The housing plan is drawn up within the framework of the tools available to the municipality: changes in zoning, state and federal subsidies. These may not be enough right now, so maybe we can discuss other solutions, which could range from lobbying the state for more funding, to fundraising for more options for housing managed by non-profit entities, etc. I also think we can identify more creative solutions.

We have heard of the criticisms of the shortcomings, and sometimes of the dreaded consequences of the housing plan. We haven’t heard much about concrete ways to fill these gaps. I hope that subsequent discussions of the housing plan will include not just objections, but solutions (if you have any) or questions (if you don’t know of a solution). Saying no won’t solve the problems. If you are genuinely interested in helping the city (and region) solve these problems, talk with each other and consider your opportunities to learn more about possible solutions to this complex problem.

Update city ​​housing plan project

This view was posted on Saturday, January 22, 2022.

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