Around Amherst: Federal housing vouchers boosted for units in town ZIP code

Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 08, 2023

AMHERST — An increase in the value of Section 8 vouchers is among the strategies the Amherst Housing Authority is using to get more people into available apartments and reduce the current vacancy rate.

At a recent Amherst Affordable Housing Trust meeting, Housing Authority Executive Director Pamela Rogers said that as of Oct. 1,  federal Section 8 vouchers are set at 110% of the median income for Amherst’s 01002 ZIP code, rather than being set based on the area median income.

This will mean that the matching subsidy increases, allowing a tenant to afford a studio apartment in Amherst, going for over $1,300 in rent per month, well above the $934 fair market monthly rent in the region.

The discrepancy in what people could afford for rents in Amherst “was absolutely a problem, for sure,” Rogers said.

Rogers said the Housing Authority, which also oversees properties in Hadley and Belchertown, assists families at 479 units through both vouchers and its own 200 physical units, but still has a 9.37% vacancy rate in Amherst.

“Our voucher holders are having a very difficult time finding available units in Amherst, and the surrounding towns,” Rogers said. “The cost for units is just too high and they’re vying with students and other professionals who are taking the units away from them.”

The Common Housing Application for Massachusetts Programs, or CHAMP, promulgated as a statewide application system in the 2014 Housing Bill, was supposed to help get units filled by putting everyone on an even playing field, and ensuring no more than 30 days elapsed before a unit was turned over.

But instead, because of the application process and lack of capital, it’s taking upward of six months to turn over a unit, Rogers said.

“It’s awful, it’s way too long,” she said, adding that units need to be refurbished. “Our infrastructure is very old,” Rogers said.

Rogers’ team is also finding that some people get to the end of the application process, and then they ask what MBTA T stop is in Amherst, causing them to withdraw the application when they realize the town is not near Boston.

Veterans Day

An annual Salute to Veterans Breakfast takes place Saturday at 9 a.m. at the Bangs Community Center, with the meal to be served at 9:30 a.m.

Smith Vocational and Agricultural School students, under the direction of Nelson Lacey, will be preparing and serving the food.

Tickets, which are free for veterans and $10 for the public, are required to attend.

Due to ongoing construction on the North Common, the 11 a.m. Veterans Day ceremony will take place at the Central Fire Station.

Amherst Media honors

An Amherst couple whose leadership inaugurated Puerto Rican Day celebrations in town are being recognized by Amherst Media with the Jean Haggerty Engagement and Social Justice award.

At the 48th annual Amherst Media meeting set for Nov. 18 at 7 p.m. at the Marriott Center at University of Massachusetts, Victoria Silva and her late husband, Vladimir Morales, are being honored as the 14th recipients of the award. Last year, members of the town’s Community Safety Working Group were honored. Other previous recipients of the award, named for the late Amherst Community Television producer, board member and activist, include Pat Ononibaku, Judy Brooks, state Rep. Ellen Story, Carlie and Gary Tartakov and the Amherst League of Women Voters.

Zydalis Bauer will be the emcee, while poet Martin Espada and musical artists Kalyani Jayne, Jose Gonzales and members of Banda Criolla will perform.

The event will also serve as the formal announcement of plans for the public access station’s new building, to be named the Dr. Demetria Defaye Rougeaux Shabazz Center for Media Arts and built at Main and Gray streets.

Equity in Environmental Education

The League of Women Voters is putting on a program focused on equity in environmental education on Tuesday at 7 p.m. as part of its Judy Brooks Series.

Billy Spitzer, executive director of the Hitchcock Center for the Environment, will share his perspective with a talk, “Achieving Equity in Environmental Education in Western Mass.” The center is making changes to serve the urban and rural communities in the area more equitably, such as through summer camps in partnership with Springfield public schools, Amherst Recreation, Holyoke YMCA and the Public Health Institute of Western Mass.

The talk comes after the recent African Heritage Reparation Assembly final report recommended that Amherst expand educational opportunities for Black youths.

Register online for the discussion at lwvamherst.org.

Trivia bee

The recent Amherst Education Foundation trivia bee brought in $14,361, exceeding a $14,000 goal.

The AEF Past and Future Presidents took home the trophy at the 29th annual competition, which was emceed by retired Wildwood School principal Nick Yaffe, with interim Superintendent Douglas Slaughter and Foundation Board President Shawn Fortin acting as judges.


MONDAY: Town Council, 6 p.m.

TUESDAY: Public Shade Tree Committe, 5:30 p.m. and CDBG Advsory Committee, 7 p.m.

WEDNESDAY: Jones Library Building Committee, 4:30 p.m. and Planning Board, 6:30 p.m.

THURSDAY: Cultural Council, 5:30 p.m.

FRIDAY: Jones Library Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee, 1:30 p.m.