Sunderland presents updated housing plan, seeks public input

  • A depiction of the main building at the Sanderson Place housing project at 120 North Main St. in Sunderland. The project will host 33 rental units. Screenshot

Staff Writer
Monday, January 10, 2022

SUNDERLAND — The town presented a brief overview of its housing plan Monday night and is asking for more resident input before a Jan. 10 deadline.

As the town anticipates the completion of the Sanderson Place affordable senior housing project at 120 North Main St. in the fall, town officials are now setting their sights on addressing affordable housing for all residents.

“The real goal of a housing plan is to understand the housing needs of a community,” explained Megan Rhodes, the Franklin Regional Council of Governments’ senior transportation and land use planner. “Quite a few people in town need affordable housing.”

In the townwide housing survey that informed the report, 60% of the 171 respondents noted they are facing “varying level of unaffordability” with their housing.

As the town proceeds with the housing draft, Rhodes said some of the top priorities will be increasing affordable housing opportunities, balancing residential development with the town’s character and natural spaces, and engaging residents in the process.

Rhodes noted in her presentation that the current vacancy rate for rental units is 3%, which makes it difficult for people to move to the town. Those who are able to find rental housing are also paying a higher average rent in Sunderland than they would in Amherst — $1,400 per month compared to $1,300. More than 40% of renters that responded to the survey said they are “severely cost burdened” by their rent.

“A lot of people are paying a lot of money for housing in town,” Rhodes said. “There’s very few units available and the supply is low.”

Sunderland’s population is projected to decline over the next 20 years, but these projections don’t take into account the 33 rental units at the Sanderson Place development and the continuously increasing class size of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, whose students often rent housing in town.

“The data as of right now shows a decline,” Rhodes said. “But I don’t have a crystal ball.”

Sunderland’s housing plan is an updated version of its 2016 plan. Town Administrator Geoff Kravitz said the town has made “significant strides” in addressing some of the priorities identified in that plan, specifically senior housing.

“The original plan from 2016 really laid the groundwork,” Kravitz said. “(This time we see) the need for more family housing. … Those are things we can continue to work on.”

One suggestion that came from Rhodes was Sunderland possibly seeking an affordable housing trust with neighboring towns.

“I don’t think there are any immediate plans from the town’s perspective,” Kravitz said. “We’ll look at creating an affordable housing trust … figuring out what that process is, if that’s something the town wants to do.”

The housing plan and survey results can be found at bit.ly/333Nt8M. Hard copies can also be requested from Kravitz.

FRCOG and Sunderland are accepting public comment on the plan until Jan. 10. Comments can be directed to Rhodes at MRhodes@frcog.org or Kravitz at townadmin@townofsunderland.us.

The final draft with any changes stemming from public comment will then need to be approved by the Planning Board and Selectboard at future meetings.

“The plan isn’t final yet and still needs Planning Board, Selectboard and state approval. … This is really the big goals for the town. Where do we see the biggest need and how do we get there?” Kravitz explained. “It could change.”