Amherst housing coalition pitches idea for land trust

Monday, December 30, 2013
AMHERST — With owner-occupied homes increasingly vulnerable to being sold to absentee landlords and converted to student rentals, a mechanism is being considered to create more affordable or workforce housing throughout Amherst.

The Amherst Community Land Trust is a concept being pitched by the Coalition of Amherst Neighborhoods, a group of residents and Town Meeting members, whose aim is to ensure that as homes come on the market they will not be scooped up by speculators who will populate them with students.

The coalition recently submitted an application to the Community Preservation Act Committee seeking either seed money or start-up costs for this program. The exact amount being requested is not yet known.

In the preliminary proposal submitted to the CPA Committee, coalition member Maurianne Adams writes that the aim is to “promote stabilization of year-round family neighborhoods, restore and help redevelop residential communities that are threatened by the student-rental market and increase the affordability of homeownership in such communities.”

This is one of nine projects seeking $586,653 available from CPA, and one of four intended to expand the affordable housing stock in Amherst.

The others include:

• a 20-year, $750,000 bond that would preserve affordable units at Rolling Green Apartments and Echo Village Apartments;

• $154,000 to cover a possible deficit in the Amherst Housing Authority’s funding for the federal Housing Choice Voucher Program;

• $80,000 for the Pioneer Valley Habitat for Humanity to construct two units of affordable housing at 235 East Pleasant St., the former Hawthorne Farm.

The proposed community land trust, according to the proposal, would begin by buying a house already on the market, likely in a neighborhood near the University of Massachusetts campus, where the most immediately threatened owner-occupied homes are located. These include the neighborhoods along Fearing and McClellan streets and Lincoln and Sunset avenues, where owner-occupied homes declined from 84 percent of the housing stock in 2004 to 61 percent in 2013. Since 2010, around 50 owner-occupied homes townwide have been converted into rentals, half occurring just last year.

As an example of how the program would work, a residence at 20 McClellan St. is on the market for $364,000. The home is assessed at $309,900, but was originally placed on the market for more than $450,000. The price has dropped, in part, because it is already surrounded by student rentals, where loud parties and other behavior makes it less appealing to a family.

The land trust would be used to acquire this property and then sell the residence to a qualified buyer at an affordable rate and with deed restrictions, ensuring that it remains affordable and not available to students. The plan envisions that two homes per year could be bought, marketed, restricted and resold in such a manner.

If the land trust gets CPA funding, it would still likely need additional funding sources, which might include partnering with area philanthropic organizations, seeking support from employers who would benefit from having their employees able to live in Amherst and doing private fundraising a town andrequesting university funding sources.

This land trust would be different from an Affordable Housing Trust Fund or a Municipal Affordable Housing Trust, which are intended to build and develop new affordable or workforce housing.