Photo; Pixbay.com. Creative Commons


Amherst Municipal Affordable Housing Trust (AMAHT) met virtually on April 23, its first meeting since February 13. The meeting was held via Zoom webcast and recorded for possible future broadcast. Participating were members Tom Kegelman (Vice Chair), Will VanHeulven, Carol Lewis, Sid Ferreira, Rob Crowner, Town Manager Paul Bockelman, Assistant Town Planner Nate Malloy, Staff Rita Farrell and John Page. Guests Janet McGowan (Planning Board) and Kevin Noonan (Director of Craig’s Doors) participated as well.

Emergency Rental Assistance Program
The majority of the meeting was devoted to a discussion of using the Trust’s funds to create a short-term Emergency Rental Assistance Program. This would enable rental households whose incomes are reduced by the COVID-19 pandemic to obtain rental subsidies for three to six months. The Massachusetts Housing Partnership (MHP) and Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association (CHAPA) held a workshop on rental relief programs on April 22. More than 400 people statewide, including several members of the Amherst Trust, attended. The draft proposal presented by Farrell and Malloy was based on that presentation 

Although recent state legislation prohibits eviction during this pandemic, tenants are required to pay the rent owed at a later time. The legislation urges landlords to establish reasonable payment plans. Farrell stated that this program would be aimed at households earning less than 80 percent of area mean income (AMI), which is $49,850 for a single person and $68,300 for a family of four. Recommended subsidies were $500/month for a one-bedroom apartment to $850/month for a three-bedroom apartment. Applicants would have to verify their income and recertify after three months. The town would have to hire an administrator to run the program.

Kegelman proposed that the Trust use $200,000 of its funds to subsidize the rents of those who have trouble paying their rents and can document loss of income due to the pandemic. The program could apply for additional funds from Community Preservation Act funds or other sources to supplement the contributions from the Trust. Lewis and McGowan suggested that the Town negotiate with landlords to lower rents, although a survey by Nancy Schroder indicated that some landlords have experienced a loss of income from students who left town and are no longer paying rent. Between about 100 and 200 households could be helped for three to six months by this program. There would be a lottery, run by the administrator of the fund if more than 100 to 200 people applied.

Members of the Trust were supportive of the program but concerned that the draft does not include explicit details about the amount of the subsidies and the amount of money available. They voted that a finalized proposal should be brought to the Trust for a vote on April 30.

Craig’s Doors Shelter
Noonan reported that Craig’s Doors shelter will close as planned on April 30. On Tuesday, April 28, all shelter participants and workers will be tested for COVID-19. A study at a Boston shelter found that 126 of its approximately 400 occupants tested positive and all were asymptomatic. In light of this study, the Amherst shelter concluded that its screening methods of checking temperatures and asking about respiratory symptoms are probably inadequate. If any individuals from the Amherst shelter test positive, they will be housed in hotel rooms around the state dedicated to COVID-19 positive individuals such as the Quality Inn in Northampton. Those who test negative but have been exposed will be quarantined on the Hampshire College campus. Bockelman and Noonan expressed their gratitude to Hampshire College for offering the campus for this purpose and not requiring payment from the Town.

UMass Housing Demolitions
There is still uncertainty about plans of the University of Massachusetts to demolish Lincoln and North Village apartments and build new apartments and a dorm in their stead. John Hornik, Trust Chairman, reported that Tony Maroulis, Director of External Relations at UMass, has told him that the university plans to complete the new dwellings by September 2022 but  Maroulis was vague concerning how affordable they would be. The Trust decided to invite Maroulis to a future meeting to clarify the University’s plans.

Northampton Road Supportive Housing Project
Valley Community Development Corporation received its letter of eligibility from the State for the supportive housing project on Northampton Road. The next step is for them to apply for a permit, which they hope to do in May in order to be able to apply for funding in the fall. There will be another period for public comment during this process.

40R Zoning
The consultants for a proposed 40R overlay district in the center of Amherst plan to present their ideas about a zoning bylaw and guidelines to the Planning Board on May 6 or May 20. It will then be up to the Planning Board and Town Council to decide whether the Town should proceed with 40R zoning. 

The next regular Affordable Housing Trust meeting will be May 14 at 6 p.m. Before that, it will hold a special meeting on April 30 at 7 p.m. to discuss the rental subsidy program.

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