REPORT: AMHERST MUNICIPAL AFFORDABLE HOUSING TRUST MEETING (01/09/20)

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PRESENT: John Hornik, Chair, Erica Piedade, Rob Crowner, Nancy Schroeder, Carol Lewis, Syd Ferreira, Tom Kegelman, Will VanHeuvelen, Paul Bockelman (Town Manager). Staff: Rita Farrell, John Page. Guests: Janet McGowan, Janet Keller, Maura Keene

Subcommittee on Improved Access to Affordable Housing
After the minutes of the December meeting were approved with minor corrections, Carol Lewis presented the work of the subcommittee on improved access to affordable housing. The committee is formulating a list of affordable housing resources in Amherst and a list of questions to ask these organizations in order to discover gaps in services. Its next meeting will be February 10.

Valley CDC Request for CPA Funds
Donna Cabana of Valley Community Development Corporation (CDC) requested Community Preservation Act funds for a first-time-homebuyer program. A previous program, which ended in 2018, was successful. Thirty–four families, 70 percent of whom were from Amherst, received intensive financial counseling, and four were able to purchase homes through the program. The program provides no-interest $50,000 loans to families earning 80 to 100 percent of area mean income to purchase modest homes for approximately $280,000 to $325,000. The loans would be repaid to the town when the homes are resold or borrowed against. The program would run for 18 months. The first six months would be devoted to marketing and counseling of eligible individuals. Then, one household would be given the subsidy each quarter for the next year. Cabana stated that the major problem with the program is availability of appropriately priced housing, but she feels there are enough homes on the market. The Housing Trust voted to write a letter of support this program to the CPA committee.

East Street School Site
The sole proposal for development of the East Street School site by Valley CDC has not been approved. Valley CDC had asked for additional information about the site, such as whether asbestos and lead are present in the building and about restrictions due to wetlands. They did not receive this information. Another request for proposals will be issued, and the Affordable Housing Trust expressed hope that Valley CDC and possibly other developers will submit plans for the site.

Pending Legislation
John Hornik reviewed pending bills in the State House involving eviction. S913, H3496 and H1537 would provide counsel for those threatened with eviction, and expunge eviction actions from the permanent records of tenants after a period of time. (Eviction actions are currently part of the permanent records, regardless of outcome.) State Senator Jo Comerford and State Representative Mindy Domb support these measures, and the Trust voted to send letters to them and to the chairs of the relevant committees advocating for these bills. Kegelman asked that the letter also endorse protections for small landlords because previous strong tenant legislation has had the unintended consequence of some small landlords deciding not to rent their units, rather than risk being unable to evict problematic tenants. 

Safe Haven Program
Jay Levy from Eliot Community Health Services spoke of the need for a safe haven program for the most vulnerable homeless population, those with mental health problems, physical illnesses, addictions, or some combination of these. Many vulnerable people are unable to stay in shelters, and end up sleeping outside. The safe havens provide housing for six to eight individuals in a house with intensive supportive services and 24-hour supervision. The only safe haven in Western Massachusetts is in Westfield. Levy proposed advocating for another facility to serve Franklin and Hampshire counties. Hopefully, the approximately $450,000 per year needed to operate a safe haven house would come from the Department of Mental Health. The Trust voted to support this effort as well.

The Amherst Affordable Housing Coalition will meet Tuesday, January 21 at 6:30 p.m. in the Bang’s Center, Room 101. This will be the one-year anniversary of the coalition.

The next Housing Trust meeting will be Thursday, February 13 at 7 p.m. at a location yet to be named. 

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