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MBTA Communities Law aftermath: Why surprise at investor purchases?

UPDATED: This letter by Patricia B. Worden of Arlington is republished with permission. It was first published in the Boston Herald. Worden previously chaired the Arlington School Committee and Arlington Housing Authority.

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A recent finding that investors purchased one in every five homes sold between 2004 and 2018 across greater Boston “came as a surprise” to Marc Draisen, the executive director of MAPC (Metropolitan Area Planning Council), as quoted in the Herald, Nov. 30.

That Draisen was surprised strains credulity. He resides in Arlington, as does the governor. He should have known that this investor exploitation was increasing quickly. Even in already fully built out towns like Arlington (second most dense town in Massachusetts) the density push is relentless. See ARFRR >> Developers and investors outbid families wishing to buy.

'Irresponsible elimination of zoning'

Developers encourage irresponsible elimination of zoning protections to incentivize construction of lucrative luxury homes after destroying existing homes. Residents of the region’s limited modest affordable units are greatly endangered. For example, in Arlington, where there are many of these residents, their units would be torn down and replaced by expensive luxury flats. Damaging commoditized housing policy choices by politicians and their appointees have also been seen in recent so-called “friendly” 40B developments.

It is Draisen’s responsibility to oppose potential damage from overcompliant municipal-voted plans designed to comply with the bureaucratic regulations for BY-RIGHT development enabled by the MBTA Communities Law.

Arlington’s now-voted plan excludes the area, required by the law itself, within walking distance to Alewife. So the plan will not reduce traffic, which was an important goal for the MBTA law. That area is already at required density and needed only a change from current two-family zoning to three-family zoning to provide the legal overlay. But this simple compliance solution was ignored. The chosen plan has huge developer profit potential and will be much more destructive for Arlington.

'Rushed for approval'

Like Lexington, the Arlington Town Meeting vote was rushed through for approval. Lacking local newspapers, most Lexington and Arlington residents had no idea what was happening.

They were in the dark. Unintended consequences were not studied and no satisfactory dimensional safeguards were required by the MBTA C Law Working Group. Arlington’s working-group membership was dominated by developers, architects, half of the Arlington Redevelopment Board, real estate and construction employees, density zealots and ZERO members of Arlington’s many dedicated committee and commission members. The overlay plan finally voted had no sustainability or protection for individual historic buildings and very limited affordability requirements.

Voting against

Admirably, voting against the destructive final plan were the current chair and longtime past chair of the Finance Committee, former chair of Arlington Redevelopment Board and former Arlington fire chief, who happen to be current Town Meeting members.

The legal notice of inclusion of residents’ homes in doomed overlays had no indication of what the planned overlay was – only a boilerplate mention of a meeting. Some elderly residents were in tears when they found out what these overlay plans would enable. Surprise, surprise, the governor’s home, and Arlington’s senator and state representatives’ homes are not in the overlays.

We need Draisen to protect us -- not to be “surprised” at what is happening. He should protect dense towns like Arlington from the huge damage potential of the regulations for MBTAC Law. He could start by recommending that MBTAC law overlay plans that are designed mainly to increase developer exploitative gentrification and ignore the requirement for overlay accessibility to transportation hubs like Alewife do NOT receive approval by the Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities.


This letter was published Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2023. Notes: Arlington lacks a newspaper reporting about the town in any depth, but YourArlington has reported effectively about the MBTA Communities Act throughout the year. Contrary to what is reported here, Marc Draisen says he does not live in Arlington and never has.

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Comments

Mark Kaepplein on Saturday, 16 December 2023 20:00
Zoning plan targets lower-income and minority families in Arlington

Dr. Worden,

Arlington's MBTA zoning overlay is clear in intent: maximize the property tax base. There is no state requirement to encourage more mixed development, nor to go four and five floors.

Mixed development harms senior housing opportunities where first floors are the most accessible, and far better than an elevator which can't fit a stretcher for medical events.

Arlington's plan is also racist - it targeted areas the town/state calls environmental justice areas where the minorities and below median income residents live. There are other bus routes through Arlington dominated by single family homes and wealthier white residents, but they were not included. Unintended, or intended to gentrify diversity out of town? Perhaps officials consider diverse populations a burden on services and want them gone. Evicting tenants to redevelop 100 year old two family homes into more apartments with higher rents and less parking drives lower income people out of Arlington.

Dr. Worden, Arlington's MBTA zoning overlay is clear in intent: maximize the property tax base. There is no state requirement to encourage more mixed development, nor to go four and five floors. Mixed development harms senior housing opportunities where first floors are the most accessible, and far better than an elevator which can't fit a stretcher for medical events. Arlington's plan is also racist - it targeted areas the town/state calls environmental justice areas where the minorities and below median income residents live. There are other bus routes through Arlington dominated by single family homes and wealthier white residents, but they were not included. Unintended, or intended to gentrify diversity out of town? Perhaps officials consider diverse populations a burden on services and want them gone. Evicting tenants to redevelop 100 year old two family homes into more apartments with higher rents and less parking drives lower income people out of Arlington.
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