Nicola Usher: Opposing SRO project means opposing affordable housing

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Friday, June 07, 2019

Amherst has a rare opportunity to provide much needed affordable housing, and encourage an inclusive community with the Valley CDC Studio Apartment Supportive Housing project proposed for 132 Northampton Road.

As someone who grew up in affordable housing, it has been disheartening for me to hear some of the fears voiced by area residents, particularly the assumptions being made about the potential future tenants posing a threat to the safety of the community.

The only thing we know for sure about the potential tenants is that they are people who need an affordable place to live. That is all. In an area that boasts itself as liberal and progressive we need to do better. When someone says that this project “is not in character with the neighborhood,” we’re being complicit in stereotyping if we don’t challenge them to elaborate on what that means. If someone opposes an affordable housing development near them, that person simply opposes affordable housing.

Where is the compassion and values of diversity and inclusion on which the Amherst community prides itself? Do we really just value diversity and inclusion in theory and from a distance, but not in our own backyards?

It saddens me that while some are expressing concerns about crime, traffic, and the impact on their property values, these future tenants, who are actively seeking community and support, would move in (if the project goes through) knowing they have neighbors who actively tried to discriminate against them.

I sincerely hope this project moves forward, and I hope many will join me in supporting it and welcoming new members to our community when they move in. During their campaigns, town councilors repeatedly spoke of representing voices not heard from. The dominant voices criticizing this proposal are those of homeowners in a concentrated area.

This is an opportunity for the councilors to represent the underrepresented. I appreciate that the council is challenged to serve diverse needs while balancing the concerns of residents, but concerns aren’t valid just because they exist and leadership means standing up for what is right. There aren’t two sides to social justice.

Nicola Usher