At the August 26 Town Council meeting, John Hornik, chair of the Amherst Municipal Affordable Housing Trust, noted that the town has no formal goals for affordable housing development and asserted that the gap between the need for affordable housing and the availability continues to grow. Hornik proposed a new policy to promote affordable housing in Amherst and the council referred the draft policy to the Community Resources Committee of the Town Council and the Finance Committee with the goal of adopting a robust affordable housing policy by early 2020.
The Housing Production Plan, passed by the Select Board in 2013, recommended the creation of 250 affordable units in town within five years. However, the town has not come close to that goal. Pressure on the housing market is exerted by the growing University of Massachusetts enrollment and rental costs have risen substantially, so that over 50 percent of renters pay more than the recommended 30 percent of their income on housing according to the Affordable Housing Trust.
Since 2000, the gap between the number of students enrolled at UMass and campus residential capacity has steadily increased from 12,570 to 16,741, an increase of over 4,000 students seeking housing in the local market And the university has admitted its largest class ever this fall, a few thousand students above their planned goals, according to the proposal put forward by the Affordable Housing Trust.
People who received HUD housing vouchers in Amherst (formerly Section 8) were generally not able to use them in Amherst. The Section 8/ HUD housing choice voucher program is the federal government’s major program for assisting very low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled to afford decent, safe, and sanitary housing in the private market. … A housing subsidy is paid to the landlord directly by the government on behalf of the participating family.
Of the 70 HUD housing vouchers issued by the Amherst Housing Authority in 2017 and 2018, only 16 were used in Amherst and 23 expired without being used anywhere. These were vouchers for qualified low-income residents (meaning that they earned less than 50 percent of the adjusted median income (AMI) for the Springfield area or $28,250 for one person, $32,300 for two people, $36,350 for three people and $40,350 for four people).
Over the past decade, 41 affordable units were preserved at Rolling Green. New units were produced at Olympia Oaks, two duplexes at Hawthorn Farm and North Amherst Community Farm, and 28 units are to be leased at North Square with the help of state subsidies. Nevertheless, this is far short of the 250 unit goal set in 2013.
Hornik noted that if Amherst wishes to remain a vibrant community with a population diverse in age and income, it cannot rely on developers to supply the necessary dwellings for those who cannot afford to pay the market rate. Yet the town has limited fiscal means, as noted above, to fund affordable housing and so it requires a comprehensive, strategic policy to make it happen.
Hornik’s proposed policy includes that following elements:
1) Production and Preservation Goals of 250 units over the next 10 years for households earning less than 80 percent AMI; 100 units of the next 10 years for households earning 80–100 percent of AMI.
2) Funding priorities for preserving existing and development new affordable housing units with permanent affordability restrictions.
- Creation of rental housing for families, particularly those earning less than 50 percent of the AMI and the growing number of households consisting of a single parent with children
- Creation of rental housing for individuals who require smaller affordable housing units (i.e., studio apartments) including housing for at-risk and special needs populations and particularly those whose incomes are below 30 percent AMI
- Preservation of existing affordable rental housing including subsidized units and those in the private housing market
- Affordable home ownership for low- and moderate-income families and individuals.
According to Horknik, the town has the following, limited, means to subsidize development of affordable housing:
- Community Preservation Act funds
- Community Development Block Grant funds
- Tax incentive financing
- Use of town surplus property (e.g., re-use of the East Street School)
- Short-term rental fees (e.g. from AirBnb) dedicated to affordable housing
- Enforcement (or expansion) of an inclusionary zoning bylaw adopted at the May 2018 Town Meeting that specifies that any developer requesting a special permit needs to devote 10 percent of the units to affordable housing or pay an equivalent amount to the Housing Trust
To meet the proposed production goals, Hornik encouraged the town to develop a robust housing policy that supports the creation of new units for both rental and home ownership through new developments, subdivision of single-family homes into multi-family dwellings, and new accessory buildings on single-family lots.