Elissa Rubinstein: Explains Town Meeting vote on affordable housing

Wednesday, December 07, 2016
Explains Town Meeting affordable housing vote

“TM rejects affordable housing amendment,” read a recent headline (Bulletin, Nov. 25). Sounds like Amherst Town Meeting is against affordable housing, right? Actually, the opposite is true. Why did many Town Meeting members, who are affordable housing advocates, vote against this proposal?

In 2005 an inclusionary bylaw passed by Town Meeting states, “All residential development requiring a special permit and resulting in additional new dwelling units shall provide affordable housing units.” The threshold is set at a building over nine units. However, since that time, the Planning Board has interpreted this to mean that special permits seeking dimensional modifications (higher buildings covering more square footage) were exempt from the bylaw. Therefore, since 2005, there have been no affordable units in projects coming before the Planning Board.

This fall the Planning Board decided to revisit the question of special permits and came up with a formula for generating affordable units that takes into account only the cubic square footage gained for new units under the permit. For example, if applied to the current 135-unit mixed use residential building under construction downtown, One East Pleasant, the town would gain four affordable units. If the Planning Board enforced the clear language of the 2005 bylaw, we would have as many as 14 to 16 units based on the entire building.

Some say this is progress. Others feel it would codify a very narrow interpretation of the original bylaw that was intended to create more affordable housing while letting developers get waivers for their projects. As new, large mixed-use residential projects come to town, it is all the more important to advocate for more, not fewer, affordable units.

In the future, I hope your headlines and articles reflect more of the complexity of issues before Town Meeting.

Elissa Rubinstein


The writer is a Town Meeting member from Precinct 10.