Barbara Burkart: Vibrancy of Amherst’s quirky character diminishes

Thursday, April 29, 2021

A recent Gazette article outlined the Amherst Chamber of Commerce’s assertion that a proposed moratorium on multiunit apartment construction would be detrimental to economic growth in the town, and would send the wrong message. Business leaders are asking residents, business owners, and workers to endorse their statement. I find their actions disingenuous and self-serving.

True, there’s a housing shortage in the region. It reflects the scarcity and skyrocketing costs of housing for individuals, couples and families. The business community wants to address this by building more apartment buildings similar to those constructed in the past five years.

Why? Because three or four students contributing rent to each unit bring vast profits for builders and landlords, far more than families struggling with stagnant wages can pay. These new apartments are neither affordable for families nor designed for them. They lack parking, yards, and interiors designed to meet families’ needs.

Furthermore, the vibrancy of the town’s quirky character diminishes every time existing buildings with affordable rents are razed and replaced by bland, boxy structures that dwarf the townscape. Town centers thrive with healthy diverse local businesses, walking accessibility (running into one’s neighbors and friends is a benefit of small town life), and ample parking nearby.

The shortage of housing these builders have addressed is the lack of on-campus dorm and apartment space for UMass students. This is a UMass problem and a state government problem, not a town problem. Our town’s leadership doesn’t seem to get that. Our town is losing its architectural character and down-to-earth affordability.

We cannot look to these business leaders for leadership. Follow the money trail, and we’ll see who benefits from their argument.

Barbara Burkart