“Town Councilor Steve Schreiber of High Street, though not an abutter and speaking for himself, not as an elected official, said that allowing this conversion is spot zoning and that densification of neighborhoods leads to deterioration — ironic in that he voted in the affirmative for zoning changes that encourage densification in neighborhoods at the Town Council meeting three nights before this hearing.” (Amherst Indy, January 7, 2021)
Exactly what my neighbors and I have, for years, been expressing during public comment before Town Council and Planning Board members. In a college town like Amherst, zoning changes supporting densification usually result in the proliferation of student rentals, which do tear at the fabric of residential neighborhoods that have long been home to seniors, families, university faculty and administrators, and other year-round members of our community.
Many on Amherst Town Council dismissed the dozens of constituent letters received prior to its January 4th meeting as nothing more than “fear of change.” In the RG neighborhood between UMass and downtown, the change we fear isn’t change at all – it has long been with us and we simply seek not to have it become the norm.
For more than 10 years, the two in-fill houses on the tiny lot on the other side of our backyard fence have been rented to eight students (four per dwelling). Fronting on Cosby Street, the property is owned and operated by a commercial management company — and is in pretty shoddy condition. These in-fill dwellings have never been – nor will they ever provide – affordable housing for seniors and families. At ~$800 per month per student, the landlord likely generates ~$6400 per month from these small houses. Why would the owner rent to a family or retired couple at ~$2,000 per month per house, when he can get ~$3200 per month, per house by renting to students?
We chose to live in an old house near Town and, like many others, have learned to accept that a few times a year the police will be called to break up a party that’s gotten out of hand. As often as not, calls to the Amherst Police or Fire Department are in the interest of the students’ safety as much as restoring calm to the neighborhood. The one time I contacted the Amherst police, there were about 200 students on the small parcel that sits roughly 50-75 feet from my back door.
Several students were packed onto a small 2nd floor balcony. Fearful that it could collapse, the police were summoned for the safety of all involved.
The situation that’s just reaching Strong Street has for years threatened the neighborhood between UMass and town. We welcome families and seniors of all races, creeds, ethnicities, and religions seeking affordable and market-rate housing. But we know all too well that landlords are not in the affordable housing business; zoning changes that encourage infill and additional units on single family lots, will result in more student rentals. Amherst is a college town and that’s the simple economics of it all.
What my neighbors and I do ask is that Town Councilors and Planning Board members not impose on our neighborhood the problems they object to in their own.
Jennifer Taub is Chair Of The Local Historical District Commission