Report On The Meeting Of The Amherst Municipal Affordable Housing Trust, August 10, 2023
This meeting was conducted over Zoom and was recorded. It can be viewed here.
Carol Lewis and Erica Piedade (Co-chairs), Rob Crowner, Allegra Clark, Risha Hess, Aschleigh Jensen, Grover Wehman-Brown, and Town Manager Paul Bockelman
Staff: Nate Malloy (Senior Planner)
Jessica Allan and Laura Baker from Valley Community Development Corporation came before the Amherst Municipal Affordable Housing Trust (AMAHT) on August 10 to report on the status of its plans for a 30-unit development of affordable duplexes for home ownership. They explained that they have renamed the project Amherst Community Homes because there will be no access to the development from Ball Lane.
The 30 units will include 18 two-bedroom and 12 three-bedroom units, ranging from 995 to 1,273 square feet and will sell for about $150,000 to $232,000. All will be affordable to those making 80 to 100% of area mean income (up to $93,000 per year for a family of 4). Six units are handicapped accessible. There will be two shared parking lots with a paved sidewalk spine connecting them, and the duplexes will be built in clusters with pockets of open space in each cluster. Only half of the site will be developed. The units will have all electric utilities and passive solar, with most windows facing south.
The development was originally to contain some market rate housing, but construction costs have escalated so much that Valley CDC would need to sell the market rate homes for $500,000, which it felt was excessive. The sale prices will be set by MassHousing which allows up to 35% of an applicant’s income to go to housing. Sale prices will be restricted for the first 15 years, and any profit from sales in years 15 to 30 must be shared with the town to be used for affordable housing. This restriction can be extended by the town or MassHousing. The deed restriction means that property taxes will be lower than comparable housing in Amherst, because the assessed value of the homes will be restricted. An owner may transfer the unit to relatives, but the home must remain owner occupied. A market study showed that there are many people in this income range who would qualify to purchase these units.
Valley CDC is working with Commonwealth Builders to construct the project. Commonwealth Builders requires that applicants for the units be first-time homebuyers and have assets less than $100,000. They also must qualify for a fixed-rate mortgage and be able to put three percent down or receive down payment assistance. And they must complete homebuyer education before completing the purchase. Purchasers will be selected by lottery.
These affordable homeownership projects can only be constructed in qualified census tracts, of which there are two in Amherst—one in North Amherst that contains the Amherst Community Homes project and one near the center of town. These are the only two qualified census tracts in Hampshire County.
The total budget for the project is $17.1 million. Commonwealth Builders is contributing $8 million; $750,000 will come Amherst Community Preservation Act funds and $6 million from sales of the homes. Valley CDC expects to receive $262,500 in energy credits and will defer $1.3 million of its development costs and aim for $200,000 in grants. The organization hopes to receive $375,000 from AMAHT when construction starts in 2025. The homes are slated to be ready for occupancy in 2025 or 2026.
The staff liaison to AMAHT, Senior Planner Nate Malloy, said that the trust’s development fund has over $700,000, so it could afford to contribute the $375,000 to this project. Trust Co-Chair Erica Piedade said she was happy that Valley CDC is developing the land for affordable housing, as opposed to a for-profit developer. She pointed out that most of AMAHT’s projects have been rentals, and this project diversifies its efforts and will support family homeownership. Co-chair Carol Lewis agreed, saying, “This is exactly the type of project we want to support.”
Town Manager Paul Bockelman noted that there are other worthy projects that will need monetary support from AMAHT, such as the year-round shelter set to be built at the site of the former VFW on Main Street.
Aschleigh Jensen felt that the project was too expensive and that people could purchase a condo in surrounding communities for the same amount of money as these units will cost and without the restrictions.
The vote was 5-2 to earmark some of the trust’s funds. Bockelman and Jensen voted no. Valley CDC will present the plans to the Zoning Board of Appeals for a permit under Chapter 40B of Massachusetts General Law. More information about this project can be found here.