Deadline for input May 25th at NOON
ALERT!!! Housing Advocates! Renters! 2-family owners in RB zones!!!!
At every meeting the words ‘affordability’ and ‘housing crisis’ are on everyone’s lips. Yet there is a huge issue given little exposure. The City’s proposed zoning will change our current RB zone which allows 3 units to NR zone which allows just 2 units. Housing advocates, renters, property owners/landlords – unite and defend – this downzoning helps no one!
There are 3600 2-family homes zoned RB which have 1 or 2 units. A whopping 58% of 6232 RB homes with potential to add a rental unit. Under the new NR zoning? That potential is wiped out and prohibited. Is this what Somervillians want or need? A better response to the housing crisis would be to incentivize 3600 2 family owners to look into creating another rental unit! An argument could logically be made to zone the entire proposed NR zone ‘RB’. Allow expanding outside the current footprint, adding dormers and 3rd levels – EXACTLY what the housing crisis warrants. We need more living space, not simply dividing up the larger units into smaller units. Housing advocates do NOT advocate larger ‘family’ units broken up; yet modifications proposed to ‘perhaps’ add a 3rd unit via ‘special permit’ is a pretense and unfeasible, allowing subdivision of existing rather than encouraging adding more area. See how NY proposed UPzoning! Google RPA.org New York ‘Outdated Law’
Renters/Housing Advocates: Somerville needs greater density for housing purposes, not forfeiting shovel ready rental units. Housing available right under our noses – 3600 RB homes could potentially add another rental unit! This proposed NR zoning means no relief for renters who continue to struggle to afford escalating rents; rents which will continue to go up in response to unmet demand. We need to demand a public hearing on ZONING!!
Property Owners of 2 Families RB zoned: Speak up and let the BOA know you are adamantly against downzoning RB to NR zoning-Preserve your property rights, the value of your real estate and its potential. NR zoning is an assault on your largest asset—the City does not plan to reduce your assessment or your taxes when they significantly damage the value of your real estate. Whether or not you personally considered adding a 3rd unit, your property has substantial value in that potential-the equivalent of hundreds of thousands!! The Board will say their intent is to restrict developers. Not true! They are ushering in proposals hurting you and me, who invested in Somerville when others deemed it not worthy, and who depend on the value of their real estate far greater than developers. We need to demand a public hearing on Zoning!
There is great data in ‘Somerville by Design’ The RA/RB Report – An Analysis and Discussion of Current Residential Zoning Regulation http://www.somervillebydesign.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/RA-RB-Report_FINAL-web.pdf
See page 41. In RA districts (not zoned for 3 units) 894 houses have 3-units, 16%. With 6282 lots RB zoned for 3 units, just 25% of the those 3 units. 58% of 6282 lots have just one or two units with potential to add a 3rd. A majority of the properties in RB could possibly expand – imagine! Is Somerville prepared to eliminate what could bring a huge number of rental units to market, perhaps easing escalation of rents, and downzone in the midst of a housing crisis?
Page 18 “Just under 5% of structures in RB are nonconforming to the permitted three (3) stories and less than 1% are nonconforming to the two and a half (2.5) stories permitted in RA. Yet when considering height restrictions in feet, the nonconformance of properties in the RA district (35 feet permitted) jumps to over 80%.” The Board wants to set unrealistic limits compared to what already exists.
See Page 34, Table X. When considering building height, 3447 lots are nonconforming in RA, nearly three times the nonconformance of RB lots. Likewise, when considering stories, 266 lots in RA are nonconforming, versus just 48 in RB. In light of the fact that homes in the RA district are actually an average of three (3) feet taller than structures in RB, it is the perception of height and ultimately differences in roof design that seems to be of greatest concern for preserving the local character of certain areas of the city. Rather than continuing to differentiate areas of the city are are fundamentally the same, a single ‘Neighborhood Residential’ district with rationalized tools along with an overlay to that provides protection for areas with specific features that contribute to a unique character will work together with other reforms to improve the functionality of the ordinance. To distinguish neighbors that need additional protection, on possible solution is a new regulatory mechanism known as a Neighborhood Conservation District (NCD)” Why not zone all of the proposed NR zone ‘RB’ and simply use an NCD to protect specific neighborhoods?
On page 28, The RA district has an average lot size that is more than 200 sf smaller than the average lot in RB and has a higher rate of nonconformance to its requirement.
Note Table X. In terms of larger lots, though one might expect the larger lots to be RA zoned, in fact Table X shows, for lots 6000 sf and greater, 355 lots in RA, compared to 593 lots in RB. With 593 large lot sizes in RB, the potential for added units could critically factor in to the housing shortage. A lot over 6000 sf could offer a significant envelope to create spacious new rental units. The City should incentivize RB 2 family owners with low cost affordable loans to increase housing.
A rental unit added to existing housing is easiest to create and the cheapest to add.
Absent an initial huge sum of money to purchase a lot (we know lots to build on hardly exist, at any price) combined with the cost of new construction, add to that usually an up and coming neighborhood = a rental that is sky-high and which only the wealth and highest earners can afford.
Pros of Current RB (3-unit) zoning A WIN WIN WIN
• More rental units (3600 2 families zoned RB—if even half could add a unit that’s 1800 or more rentals which could be built on existing land)
• Rentals built onto existing stock = greater affordability vs purchase lot/build new = sky-high rent
• Easing of the rental market (slows rent escalation)
• Permits paid to the city = revenue to the city
• Permits = safe rental units vs illegally created units
• Taxes = new unit raises property assessment = greater ‘permanent’ tax revenue to the city
Bad for Everyone
Matters of such magnitude warrant full participation and inclusivity—yet the city refuses to notify by direct mail property owners about this changing zoning-a large percentage do not live in Somerville and are completely in the dark. This downzone is similar to eminent domain – a ‘taking’ of real estate value without notification or ability to defend. The City’s agenda calls for voting in sweeping zoning reform that hurts those who invested in this city before it was a hot commodity, and devalues our largest asset for retirement. Repeated requests have been made to notify. Recent mailings of water bills and real estate tax bills offered a no-cost opportunity. Even a simple robocall request made by the BOA-declined. Renters will continue to struggle, fighting for limited inventory, and striving to pay ever-escalating rents. We need to demand a public hearing on zoning!!
WIN WIN WIN!
Tell the Board, NO DOWNZONING of RB districts!
Demand a Hearing on Zoning!