East Amherst affordable housing project grows, but opening pushed back to 2028

The East Street School in Amherst is now slated to house 31 affordable housing units, while an associated development on Belchertown Road will have 47 units.

The East Street School in Amherst is now slated to house 31 affordable housing units, while an associated development on Belchertown Road will have 47 units. STAFF FILE PHOTO


Staff Writer

Published: 01-02-2024 10:26 AM

AMHERST — A significant affordable housing development in the East Amherst village center will provide housing for more families and individuals than first envisioned, but the new homes likely won’t be available for rent until about two years beyond the original timeline.

Representatives from Way Finders Inc., a Springfield nonprofit housing organization, selected to undertake the $27 million project in March 2022, informed the the Amherst Municipal Affordable Housing Trust at a recent meeting that the development, on two sites, will have 78 apartments, up from 70 in the original plan, with occupancy possible sometime in 2028.

The project includes incorporating the former East Street School at 31 East St. into a two-story addition facing East Street and South East Street, close to the current Fort River School and future new elementary school, along with the construction of a new three-story building at 72, 76 and 80 Belchertown Road.

Jamie Gruber, project manager at Way Finders, said the East Street site will have 31 units, with the mix being one studio apartment, 10 one-bedroom apartments, 15 two-bedroom apartments and five three-bedroom apartments. The Belchertown Road sites will have two studio apartments, 12 one-bedroom apartments, 23 two-bedroom apartments and 10 three-bedroom apartments.

Way Finders worked with a design team to find more efficiencies and additional units, Gruber said, without compromising the amount of space that families will have.

“We saw the benefit of adding a studio here or there, if there was room for it,” Gruber said.

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But the project’s move-in dates are up to two years later, due to the funding needs for the development that depends on a mix of public and private sources, including housing tax credits from the state and federal governments, applications to the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development, and private capital and equity.

The schedule includes going for town permitting next year, then financing once that is complete, with construction commencing in 2027 and completion in 2028 after 18 months.

“We can’t apply for state financing until we are through zoning, we need zoning approval in order to submit the first application to the state,” said Bruce Ehrlich, senior vice president at Way Finders.

Ehrlich said the state’s $4 billion bond bill for affordable housing will help fund the project, but there’s a “line out the door” to secure the state financing.

Under current plans, 23 of the apartments will be for people making 30% of area median income, 10 will be at market rate, and the remainder income-restricted at higher levels, such as 80% of area median income.

The apartment will have on-site property management and various amenities, including laundry facilities and a community room.

Way Finders has worked on similar projects in town previously, including Butternut Farm off Longmeadow Drive and Olympia Oaks off Olympia Drive.

The town has supported the development with $600,000 from the Community Preservation Act account to acquire the properties on Belchertown Road after officials found little interest from affordable housing developers in developing only the East Street School site due to its small size. Another $225,000 has come from the town’s Affordable Housing Trust.

Michelle McAdaragh, senior project manager, said the delays in getting the project ready come in part because early due diligence took longer than anticipated. A service plan for the apartments has also not yet been created, McAdaragh said.

Erica Piedade, who co-chairs the trust, said the trust may have a community forum to help shepherd the project through the permitting process and to keep residents informed about its progress.