CRC Solicits Feedback On Draft For A New Town Housing Policy


Report on the Meeting of the Community Resources Committee (CRC) (12/15/20)

The meeting was held as a Zoom webinar and was recorded.

CRC members: Town Councilors Mandi Jo Hanneke Chair (at large), Evan Ross (District 4), Steve Schreiber (District 4), Shalini Bahl-Milne (District 5)

Absent: Sarah Swartz (District 1)

Chairs of other committees: Steve Judge (Zoning Board of Appeals), Sarah Marshall (Community Preservation Act), Laura Draucker (Energy And Climate Action), Jack Jemsek (Planning Board), John Hornik (Affordable Housing Trust)

Staff: Dave Ziomek, Assistant Town Manager

The primary purpose of this meeting was to solicit feedback on the CRC’s draft of a new Town housing policy. CRC invited chairs of Town committees whose charge include addressing housing policy.

Most of the discussion focused on the type of feedback that the CRC is seeking and how and when that feedback will be presented, how the CRC intends to use the feedback, whether CRC is seeking responses from individual members of Town Committees or a collective response representing committee consensus, and whether feedback is sought for the comprehensive version or the condensed version.

The Housing Trust’s John Hornik reported that it will be difficult for the Housing Trust to do a comprehensive review of the proposed policy given the small time-window proposed. CRC plans to discuss feedback at their next meeting (in early January). Hornik suggested that the CRC seek input from Tom Kegelman, a non-profit developer who recently stepped down from the Trust and is well informed on Amherst’s housing needs and challenges. Hornik also recommended adding Kegelman to the CRC as a non-voting member as a way to get the feedback they are asking for. Also, Hornik requested that drafts of committee responses be shared with other Town committees on an ongoing basis so that everyone is responding not just to the draft document, but also to the concerns of the various committees.

In the ensuing discussion, several committee chairs referred to UMass as “the elephant in the room,” noting the need and the challenge of getting it to develop more on-campus housing. Hornik and Judge said they think this is sufficiently important to include formally in the policy.

Town Councilor Steven Schreiber, however, underscored the importance of UMass to the local housing market and the local economy in general. He noted that the University has taken a big hit during the pandemic and that many people in town rely on UMass students as renters.

Hornik raised the question of whether student rentals prevent families from renting affordable homes. He said that eight or nine of the 25 homes on his own street have been turned into student rentals, and stressed that we need to protect opportunities for families to live in our community as part of our housing policy. UMass drives students off campus when it doesn’t offer enough on-campus housing for them. By doing so, the university invites speculators to buy up the single-family homes at inflated prices. 

Jack Jemsek from the Planning Board said he wonders why the entire proposed housing policy can’t be simplified and some elements omitted. He asked, “Why are we addressing environmental and sustainability concerns here?” He also said he feels that safety standards can be eliminated because they are already covered by Town zoning policy.

Sarah Marshall from the Community Preservation Act committee shared her concerns about including discussion of evictions, codes, repairs, and enforcement in the Town’s housing policy when there are other ways to address them. She said she is also wary of energy requirements for new construction, and asked if they could be addressed in the building code rather than the housing policy.

The CRC then engaged in brief discussion of measurables. How will progress in achieving the housing policy goals be assessed? Town Councilor Mandi Jo Hanneke acknowledged that assessment is the vaguest part of the proposed policy and needs to be improved. The committee agreed to take this up in detail at their next meeting.

No mention was made of plans to solicit input from the public on the proposed policy and no dates were offered for the policy to be brought before the full Town Council for a vote.

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2 thoughts on “CRC Solicits Feedback On Draft For A New Town Housing Policy

  1. I post this again here – an observation by Cornell economist Robert Frank (author of several books and advisor to presidents), on the effect in Ithaca of reducing to 3 the maximum number of unrelated housemates:

    hello, Ira,

    Your question about the effects of limiting occupancy in rental houses to three unrelated individuals: Ithaca has had exactly this regulation for many years. It was adopted with the goal of maintaining a stock of housing in the city that would be both affordable and attractive to families.

    When landlords are free to stuff 7-10 students into a house, the resulting revenue boosts the value of the house as an investment to a level far above what most families could afford. Simultaneously, it creates noise, litter, and parking problems that make the environment unattractive to families. As in many other markets, there is no presumption in an unregulated housing market that an invisible hand automatically produce outcomes that are best for the community as a whole.

    Ithaca’s ordinance has been effective, but you should know that it requires vigilant enforcement. If landlords sensed that they could get away with violating it, the economic incentives to do so would be irresistible.

    Hope you can make something similar work in Amherst.

  2. “requires vigilant enforcement” Ay, there’s the rub.

    A simple search for “Investing in Rental Real Estate in University Communities” will yield all the information anyone needs to understand the pressure facing the neighborhoods adjacent to downtown.

    Distance from campus also plays a role. ULI and PwC’s “Emerging Trends in Real Estate 2020” report shows that properties closest to campus outperform further-out rentals both in rent growth and occupancy levels.

    “Outperformance among that cohort of properties suggests that demand has been — and will continue to be — stronger for properties closest to the schools they serve. Properties further from campus are by no means doomed to fail, but there is a clear trend for those properties closer to campus to post stronger fundamentals.” From Millionacres: A Motley Fool Service

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