Housing Trust Considers How to Use Federal Covid Relief Funds


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Report On The Meeting Of The Amherst Municipal Affordable Housing Trust, August 12, 2021


Trustees: John Hornik, (Chair), Will VanHeuvelan, Rob Crowner, Carol Lewis, Allegra Clark and Erica Piedade. Absent: Sid Ferreira and Town Manager Paul Bockelman 

Staff: Nate Malloy, Planner and Rita Farrell, Assistant 

Councilor Liaison: Pat DeAngelis (District 2)

Lucya Turowski was introduced as the new part-time assistant to the Trust

Federal Funds To Be Available For Affordable Housing
According to Town Manager Paul Bockelman, Amherst is slated to receive about $11 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. Governor Baker recommended that at least 20% of that money be spent on housing. An August 2,  Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association (CHAPA) seminar presented ways that local communities could use these funds. Housing Trust Chair John Hornik and member Carol Lewis attended the seminar.

Hornik presented several ideas for using the available funds. The funds have to be used to ameliorate stresses placed on housing during the pandemic. One idea is to support retrofitting of rental housing to make units more energy efficient. Town planner Nate Malloy suggested expanding this to help low income homeowners increase the energy efficiency of their homes as well. This initiative is supported by the Energy and Climate Action Committee. Hornik noted that any savings in energy costs should be passed down to renters, not reaped by landlords.

A second idea is to purchase the University Motor Lodge, currently being used to house 29 homeless individuals. Hornik was unsure if ARPA funds could be used for a homeless shelter, or if they had to be used for permanent affordable housing. Because the Motor Lodge is in the gateway to UMass, he said the purchase cost may be steep.

Amherst Community Land Trust (ACLT) Chair Linda Slakey and ACLT member Rob Crowner suggested using some of the funds to expand homebuyers programs. Available mortgage subsidies of $50,000 through Valley Community Development Corporation and ACLT do not make it possible for residents earning 80% of area mean income to purchase a home in Amherst. Current home prices in town would require a subsidy of $150,000 to enable low-income residents to have a realistic chance at owning a home, even if ACLT purchases the land. Slakey said that, although more people can be helped with homeless and rental programs, homeownership provides stability for families, and Amherst is losing families with children faster than neighboring towns, with 7% fewer school age children, as opposed to 5% fewer in the Valley as a whole.

Amherst Finance Director Sean Mangano is charged with allocating ARPA funds. The Housing Trust will submit its suggestions over the next few weeks.

Sites Eyed For New Affordable Housing
The request for proposals for affordable housing at the East Street School and Belchertown Road site is nearing completion. Although Town Procurement Officer Anthony Delaney has submitted his resignation, Malloy said that he has done procurement in the past and would be able to see the project through.

Malloy is collecting bids for surveying the 12 acres of town owned land near the railroad tracks on Strong Street. Hopefully, this site will prove suitable for affordable housing or condominiums. The town may want to sell some of the lots at market rate to finance building of affordable units.

With the sale of the Hickory Ridge golf course to the town nearing completion, Hornik expressed a thought that developable land at the West Pomeroy site could be used for senior housing. He has spoken to representatives from 2Life Communities which builds Aging in Community facilities, mostly in the eastern part of the state. These communities have extra support, such as a residence coordinator and activities coordinator and can bring in other services such as visiting nurses, but are not assisted living facilities. Most units are one and two bedroom apartments. There is also ample community space. The 2Life vision for the five to nine acres at Hickory Ridge is 100 to120 units. Federal and state financing are available for senior housing, but not for mixed elder and family projects, as some Trust members suggested. A 2Life development in East Longmeadow has 60 units. Hornik pointed out that there are advantages of scale for outside services to be gained by having more units in a project.

Malloy said that 120 units at that site sounded “scary” to him. He also cautioned that zoning at that site would not permit such density, but zoning could be changed or an application for a 40B Comprehensive permit for affordable housing could be developed and presented to the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Progress Made On Location Of Seasonal Shelter
The Homelessness and Rehousing Working Group, under the leadership of outgoing senior center director Marybeth Ogulewicz and Craig’s Doors director Kevin Noonan have hope that arrangements for an overnight shelter for the coming winter can be made with a local house of worship. Noonan did not want to specify the organization until its congregation has a change to weigh in. This venue would have capacity of 14 to 20 individuals in a congregate setting. Noonan stressed that if this opportunity falls through, there is no “Plan B.”

Need still remains for daytime space and shower facilities. The Amherst Survival Center has indicated a possibility for use of a small space at its North Amherst site from 12 to 3 daily. And Craig’s Doors is trying to provide an ADA compliant shower trailer.  

Twenty rooms at the University Motor Lodge are still being used to house 29 people. With covid vaccinations, it is possible to double up people in rooms. That facility will be available until June 2022.

Ogulewicz said the working group had wanted to find a more permanent solution for the shelter, but all town-owned sites were not suitable for use this fall. She said that with the congregate shelter at the Unitarian Universalist Society and the use of rooms at the Econolodge in Hadley, Craig’s Doors housed up to 60 individuals a night last year. She stated that the privacy afforded by hotel rooms was preferable to a congregate setting and hoped these opportunities could be expanded in the future.

Housing Bills Pending In The State Legislature
State Representative Mindy Domb joined the meeting to advocate for pending bills at the state level. One measure,  mandates a right to legal counsel for those facing eviction from their homes. Another bill advancing in the legislature would seal records of evictions, so they would not follow people for the rest of their lives, even if the case was dismissed or if they were children at the time the eviction was filed.

In addition, there was a recent hearing on legislation that would extend the moratorium on eviction which expired when the governor ended the state of emergency in June. Because of the low rate of eviction in Hampshire and Franklin counties, those counties are not included in the CDC extension of the moratorium until October 1. All Western Massachusetts legislators have signed on to this extension.

The Housing Trust voted to send a letter in support of the legislation extending the eviction moratorium. Domb pointed out that more money has been added to the state budget for the RAFT (rental assistance for families in transition) program for FY 2022.

Valley CDC received funding from the Department of Housing and Community Development for the supportive studio development at 132 Northampton Road. They hope to begin construction in the spring of 2022 and complete the building by fall of 2023.

The Trust’s rental assistance program, administered by Community Action of the Pioneer Valley has ended. There is still unspent money allocated to the program which could be used for a later program. The trust will be reimbursed for some of the funds expended.

The Massachusetts Housing Navigator is now live on-line . This is a free site that allows residents to search for affordable rentals and homes for purchase statewide.

Amherst Neighbors is sponsoring a seminar on housing for older adults on September 2 at 4 p.m. Hornik will be speaking, along with Ogulewicz, Donna Hancock who runs the meal program at the Bangs Center, and Craig’s Doors Chair Gerry Weiss. The program will be presented on Zoom. Registraion is required.

Former Trust member Frances Goyes-Flor will be receiving an award from Mass Housing this year.

The Pelham Zoning Board of Appeals recently approved unanimously a plan provided by Home City Housing to create 34 affordable units in town.

The next Housing Trust meeting will be on September 9 from 7 to 9 p.m.


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