REPORT: AMHERST MUNICIPAL AFFORDABLE HOUSING TRUST MEETING (9/12/19)

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Present: John Hornik, Erica Piedade, Rob Crowner, Nancy Schroder, Sid Ferreira, Tom Kegelman, Carol Lewis, William Van Heuvelen, and Paul Bockelman. Staff: Nate Malloy, Rita Farrell, John Page. Guests: Maura Keene, Joanne Campbell, Chad Fuller

East Street Housing

Nate Malloy of the Planning Department updated the committee on the state of proposals for developing housing at the East Street site.  Two site visits have been conducted. The deadline for proposals has been extended to mid October. It was proposed that AMAHT ought to reach out more directly to local developers and publicize the project more to encourage more proposals.  Proposals will be reviewed by a committee consisting of Kegelman, Hornik, Piedade, Farrell, Malloy and Connie Kruger prior to being presented to the Planning Board.

North Village/Lincoln Apartments Demolition

Considerable time was spent on the plans of the University of Massachusetts to demolish graduate housing at Lincoln Apartments and family housing at North Village at the end of the upcoming school year.  This will present even more pressure on the tight Amherst housing market as the current residents look for housing elsewhere. Farrell raised the question of whether these projects would trigger the state uniform statute for relocation, which would mean the university would need to provide moving costs and rent support for those who are displaced.  More information needs to be obtained about the applicability of this statute and also regarding how the residents and rent prices will be impacted by the public/privvate partnership that will develop the replacement units.  Meetings with UMASS officials are being arranged and the topic will be discussed at the October 7 Town Council meeting.


In addition to the graduate housing changes, there are 800 more undergraduates enrolled at UMass this year than anticipated.  Most are being housed on campus.

Developing Affordable Housing Policy

The trust plans to work with the Community Preservation Act Committee to develop a long-term strategy for providing affordable housing in Amherst.  Although Amherst has had an inclusionary zoning bylaw since 2005 which was strengthened in the 2018, the bylaw has nonetheless, rarely been triggered.  It was reported that regulations regarding vetting tenants and administering the rentals have discouraged developers.  

Housing vouchers have proven to be difficult for renters to use due to the general  unavailability of affordable housing and the difficulty applicants experience in trying to raise security deposits and finders’ fees required by rental companies.  There is no office or organization which is dedicated to helping qualified people and families apply for housing through various programs and also to help landlords vet the applicants.  It was suggested that a regional office be established, similar to the one in Plymouth for housing in southeast Massachusetts.

Homeless Camping

Amherst has several people camping on private land in North Amherst during the time that Craig’s Doors  shelter is closed, from April through October. Concerns were raised regarding sanitation and pollution of the nearby Mill River.  Proposed solutions included providing a formal tent city with port-a-johns or a more substantial tiny house community. Many cities, including Madison, Wisconsin  and Portland Oregon have developed tiny house communities to deal with homelessness.  To do this in Amherst would require changes in zoning and raising of capital to construct and administer the development.  A committee of Piedade, Fuller and Lewis will investigate the feasibility of such a plan.

Craig’s Doors Shelter is still planning to open around November 1.  A part time staff member has been hired to manage the trailer which contains belongings for residents and to help people apply for housing.  An ad in The Daily Hampshire Gazette is advertising for staff to replace those that resigned this summer.  Gerry Weiss is chairman of the board of Craig’s Doors and Jay Levy has joined the board.  There are still openings for board members.

Miscellaneous

Malloy reported that the town is evaluating the town-owned land on Strong Street for its suitability for housing. Also, the pending purchase of the Hickory Ridge golf course may provide a site for more housing. 

Joanne Campbell of Valley Community Development Corporation stated that the property at 132 Northampton Road is being improved and will be rented until the funding and permits for construction of the studio apartment complex can be obtained.  A proposal for state funding will be submitted in four to six weeks. 

Another presentation on 40R overlay zoning and Smart Growth planning will be  scheduled for mid to late October.   The plan is to concentrate on development in the downtown area. 

The next meeting of the Housing Trust will be October 10 at 7PM in the first floor meeting room of Town hall.  

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