Amherst affordable housing project on slow track

  • The house at 132 Northampton Road in Amherst that’s part of a property that will be turned into 28 affordable apartments is seen from the Amherst College campus. Erin ONeill

Staff Writer
Saturday, January 11, 2020

AMHERST — A Northampton nonprofit planning a $5 million affordable housing project on Route 9 will belatedly submit its application for needed state funding later this month.

Laura Baker, real estate project manager for the Valley Community Development Corp., informed the Town Council Monday that the agency remains “strongly committed” to the project in which 28 apartments would be created at an existing home and property it acquired at 132 Northampton Road a year ago.

But Baker acknowledged the project is falling behind its anticipated timeline of being ready for occupancy in 2022 or 2023, with a letter to the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development seeking money from the state Housing Innovations Fund and the Affordable Housing Trust Fund not being submitted until late January.

The proposed development, which is being supported by $200,000 from Amherst’s Community Development Block Grant, $500,000 the Amherst Town Council agreed to borrow from the Community Preservation Act account and $50,000 from the Charlesbank Foundation, will feature exclusively studio apartments. Eight will be reserved for those making $31,050 annually or less; eight reserved for those making $49,700 or less; 10 reserved for those making $18,650 or less, with a preference for the homeless; and two reserved for those making $18,650 or less who are clients of the Department of Mental Health.

Each unit will be about 240 square feet and have a kitchenette and bathroom, with the building also including common areas and a provider office.

Baker said the reasons for the delay in sending in the application, which was going to happen last fall, included the pending retirement of local architect Kathy Ford, with whom Valley CDC has worked. That forced the agency to seek a new partner to bring the project to completion.

“It was a delay we had not foreseen,” Baker said.

Valley CDC is now working with Austin Design of Greenfield and Brattleboro, Vermont.

Baker said Valley CDC is also committed to developing and submitting with its application a supportive services plan for the property, which abutters have advocated for.

Baker said other concerns from neighbors have caused additional delays, and she received a number of requests related to the timing of the application, including from councilors who suggested it should be done at a time when most of Amherst’s population is in town so people will be around during the 30-day comment period.

Those who live near the project site continue to hope for an informed process.

Kate Troast of Dana Street said she remains dismayed by a lack of specific site analysis and recognition of its challenges. “I think the council and the town are really going to hold responsibility for how this turns out,” Troast said, adding that she was disappointed there had not been a public update for six months.

But District 4 Councilor Evan Ross praised Valley CDC for keeping the council apprised of the project’s progress and said no further presentation to the council was required.  

In fact, the next time Valley CDC will have to engage the public about the project is when a comprehensive permit hearing is held by the Zoning Board of Appeals under the state’s chapter 40B law.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.