Housing Trust Suggests Uses For Federal Funds

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Report on the Meeting of the Amherst Municipal Affordable Housing Trust, September 9, 2021

Present
John Hornik (Chair), Allegra Clark, Carol Lewis, Sid Ferreira, Rob Crowner, Erica Piedade, and Frances Goyes. Absent: Will VanHeuvelen. Staff: Planner Nate Malloy and Assistant Lucya Turowski.

Amherst is slated to receive approximately $12 million from the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to offset losses from the pandemic. Trust Chair John Hornik said he believes that a substantial portion of the money ought to go to housing, and he noted that the federal government has suggested that 20% of ARPA funds could be directed to housing.

In a related matter, Kevin Noonan, Director of Craig’s Doors, and Laura Baker of Valley Community Development Corporation, both spoke in favor of purchasing the University Motor Lodge which currently houses 30 residents of Craig’s Doors. Noonan said that it is almost impossible to find affordable housing in Amherst for those who are homeless, and the Motor Lodge provides a needed option. Noonan noted that there is a need for both permanent supportive housing and temporary congregate shelter and but that right now, his top priority would be to invest in permanent housing.

Elizabeth Haygood, a retired Amherst teacher,  said that affordable housing is also needed for younger people. She told of one young man who had to move because his apartment was being renovated and could not find another affordable space. Hornik said that the supportive studio apartments to be built at 132 Northampton Road and possibly the planned developments at the former East Street School and on Belchertown Road could meet the needs of some single adults.

Trust member Sid Ferreira said the trust needs to keep advocating for racial and ethnic diversity, which he said is disappearing in Amherst, although Hornik pointed out that Amherst is more diverse than other towns in Hampshire County.

Megan McDonough of Habitat for Humanity noted that the town owns a property in North Amherst that qualifies for ARPA funds. The land is currently being used by the Department of Public Works, but could be developed for housing.

Planner Nate Malloy suggested that the Trust forward its ideas for use of ARPA funds to Amherst Finance Director Sean Mangano. He noted that the town has already spent money on COVID-related expenses and needs to be reimbursed out of the ARPA money, so he is not sure how much of the $12 million will be available.

The trust settled on seven ideas for using ARPA funds to  promote housing:

1. Weatherize and retrofit heating systems for affordable housing.

2. Purchase the University Motor Lodge for permanent supportive housing.

3. Develop a year-round homeless shelter.

4. Provide mortgage subsidies for first-time homeowners.

5. Purchase property for construction of affordable housing and homeownership.

6. Provide funds to enable homeowners to maintain and stay in their property.

7. Promote racial equity in housing and programs to support diversity of residents (this last suggestion would apply to all of above points).

East Street School and Belchertown Road Property
Malloy said that the Request for Proposals for development of affordable housing on these two town-owned properties would be available on Wednesday, September 15. The town manager will appoint a committee of three to five members to evaluate proposals submitted.

Malloy has had some consultants look at the town-owned property on Strong Street to see it can be developed for affordable housing. 

Hornik mentioned changes in the guidelines for emergency rental assistance. People are now allowed to provide self-attestation of their income and to receive advance disbursement of funds to families at risk of losing housing. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon has introduced the Decent Affordable, Safe Housing (DASH) proposal which provides changes to the housing voucher program, assistance for affordable housing, and tax credits for homeowners and renters.

Upcoming meetings:
The Community Resources Committee of the town council will be reviewing their comprehensive housing draft policy on September 14 at 2 p.m. Hornik said he hoped the committee would advocate that UMass provide more housing for its students.

The housing coalition will meet on September 21 at 6:30 p.m.

The housing trust next meets on October 12 at 7 p.m.

The meeting adjourned at 8:27 p.m.

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