Public Interest High for Developing Permanent Shelter for Unhoused. Affordable Housing Trust Proposes Goals for Future Housing 


Kuehn House in Dorchester, a design of Narrow Gate Architecture offering 12 single bedroom units for. homeless individuals. Photo: The Narrow Gate

Report on the Meeting of the Amherst Municipal Affordable Housing Trust (AMAHT), June 13, 2024

This meeting was held over Zoom and was recorded.

Carol Lewis and Erica Piedade (co-chairs), Allegra Clark, Rob Crowner, Gaston de los Reyes, and Grover Wehman Brown

Staff: Greg Richane (Associate Planner)

Public Forum on Permanent Shelter a Success
The public forum on creating a permanent shelter at the site of the former Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) building on Main Street drew approximately 45 people to Town Hall on Monday, June 10. Boston-based Narrow Gate Architecture, the firm chosen to develop the preliminary concept, presented a brief slideshow on concepts for a permanent shelter and supportive services, and then attendees broke into four groups to discuss their ideas on four topics: site plan and design, shelter and housing, connection and community, and other services. Reference was made to Father Bill’s, part of the South Shore Continuum of Care,and the Yawkey Housing Resource Center in Quincy that provide emergency shelter as well as units of permanent supportive shelter and day services, such as lockers, health care, tech support, laundry, and kitchen.

Organizer Greg Richane of the Planning Department said the forum was a successful kickoff for outreach on the project. Craig’s Doors was well represented, and the consultant architects obtained feedback from the perspectives of staff, residents, and community members. Narrow Gate will compile the input received for a presentation in late August or September.

Demographics of Residents Living at East Gables
Laura Baker of Valley Community Development Corporation supplied the following statistics on the 26 residents of East Gables at 132 Northampton Road, which opened in October, 2023.

Half of the residents identify as female, 43% are BIPOC, and 93% were previously homeless. The age range of residents is 22 to 66. AMAHT Co-chair Carol Lewis noted that there have been no police calls, no complaints of noise, and no parking issues related to the building.

Amendment to Inclusionary Zoning Bylaw Proposed
During the discussion of Barry Roberts’ mixed-use building at 45-55 South Pleasant Street, Town Manager Paul Bockelman suggested that the town might ask developers to pay more than the required four times the area mean income (AMI)  to the Amherst Municipal Affordable Housing Trust (AMAHT) in lieu of abiding by the requirement in the Inclusionary Zoning bylaw that 12% of the residential units be  affordable. The housing trust proposed that the bylaw be adjusted to say that the permit granting authority “may adjust the fee-in-lieu to account for market conditions, unit sizes, project location, and similar factors.” After a discussion, trust members decided that the payment should be between four and ten times AMI per unit. The proposed bylaw change will be referred to the Planning Board and then to the Town Council for approval.

Draft Development Goals Presented
AMAHT has been working on revising its strategic plan. The trust’s subcommittee presented its goals for development of affordable housing in the future to the full trust. The goal is to create 200 homes affordable to people earning below 100% AMI over the next five years. To reach that goal, the trust proposes to:

a. Identify two parcels, in collaboration with the town, to use for affordable housing development. 

b. Seek a land donation from a local educational institution for affordable housing development; the land could be donated to Valley CDC or WayFinders, not necessarily the town.

c. Support the construction of 20 affordable homes for ownership or make 20 existing homes affordable, possibly working with the Amherst Community Land Trust or another organization. 

d. Work with the town to create a path for non-conforming lots to be used for affordable housing development. 

e. Explore the possibility of establishing a revolving loan fund to support construction of small  affordable housing units or converting existing buildings of 12 units or less to affordable housing. 

The draft also suggested that the trust consider the following:

• AMAHT has a particular interest in supporting innovative solutions to local housing needs, including models such as co-housing, community land trusts, and accessory dwelling units (ADUs); ADUs are allowed in most zoning districts in Amherst and are included in the Housing Bond Bill passed by the State House of Representatives and now being discussed in the State Senate Ways and Means Committee.

• AMAHT could encourage proposals that include a mix of affordability (30% – 100%AMI).

Housing Trust Seeks Information about Student Housing from UMass
AMAHT asked to meet with UMass officials to discuss the current state of student housing as well as plans for future on-campus housing and enrollment at the university. Instead, however, Town Manager Paul Bockelman and Assistant Town Manager Dave Ziomek will meet with representatives of the university and present the trust’s questions. Trust members were especially interested in resources available for students who can’t find or can’t afford appropriate housing. Does the university have a fund for emergency housing? Trust members also want to know if the university has any plans for alleviating the pressure on housing in town.

Vacancies on the Housing Trust
The housing trust currently has one vacancy, but Co-Chairs Erica Piedade and Lewis, and Rob Crowner will end their second  terms in June 2025. Lewis encouraged interested community members to apply.

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