Amherst affordable housing project will have preference for locals

Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 15, 2020

AMHERST — People who live and work in Amherst or who have children attending town schools should be given first preference for available apartments in a new building to be constructed by Valley Development at 132 Northampton Road, according to advice from the Town Council.

Councilors voted 9-4 Monday to recommend the Zoning Board of Appeals include this local preference provision in conditions it sets when issuing a comprehensive permit for the $5 million project, known as a single-room occupancy building, that will have 28 apartments.

The local preference will not exceed 70% of the apartments, based on a state law mandating that cap. Under the provision, local applicants will be placed in a lottery pool from which tenants will be selected for the apartments before the remaining units are opened to others.

“We understand that local preference is prioritizing affordable units for local residents,” states a memo written by Council President Lynn Griesemer.

Of the studio apartments, eight will be reserved for those making $31,050 annually or less; eight will be set aside for those making $49,700 or less; 10 will be only for those making $18,650 or less, with a preference for the homeless; and two will be reserved for those making $18,650 or less who are clients of the Department of Mental Health.

Planning Director Christine Brestrup told the council that a local preference is typical for affordable housing projects built in Amherst.

District 3 Councilor George Ryan said the town has previously made a financial commitment to the project, and that he supports the local preference as a way of enhancing housing opportunities for residents and others in the region.

District 1 Councilor Sarah Swartz, though, said she could not support the local preference criteria because she has a family member who would otherwise be eligible to live in the project, and who considers Amherst “not friendly” to affordable housing projects that draw out-of-towners. Swartz was joined by At-Large Councilor Mandi Jo Hanneke, District 4 Councilor Evan Ross and District 5 Councilor Shalini Bahl-Milne in voting against setting a local preference.

Hanneke said her concern was that people who recently have been left unemployed or furloughed by the University of Massachusetts may now be ineligible for the local preference through no fault of their own.

Each unit will be about 240 square feet and have a kitchenette and bathroom.