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Amherst exempts some properties housing low-income families from new rental permit fee

The Select Board Monday agreed to authorize Building Commissioner Robert Morra to waive the $100-per-property rental permit fees for owners who are seeking to have their units qualify for various federally subsidized programs, such as Section 8 housing choice vouchers.

Morra told the Select Board that such a waiver system would encourage landlords to reduce rents so that their units could house a more diverse range of families.

“It could create a situation where a voucher holder could go into an apartment or unit that otherwise might not be available,” Morra said.

Families with Section 8 vouchers are typically limited to using 30 percent of their monthly income to pay their portion of the rent, with the remainder being covered by the voucher.

This waiver concept came as a recommendation from the Rental Implementation Bylaw Working Group, Morra said.

Select Board Chairwoman Stephanie O’Keeffe said she appreciated this “tremendous recommendation” as a way to give incentives to property owners to rent to more families.

Board member Alisa Brewer said the proposal is in the spirit of efforts to enhance Amherst’s affordable housing stock.

The idea may also assist families who could be impacted by possible reductions in the value of the vouchers, which is being considered by the Amherst Housing Authority commissioners next month due to reduced funding to the Section 8 program caused, in part, by the federal sequestration.

Maurianne Adams, a member of the implementation committee, said it stands behind the waiver idea.

“We really did not want this rental permit fee, which pays for this program, to cause hardships for people who are already in difficulty,” Adams said.

But the committee recommended against exempting or reducing the $100-per-property fee for units that currently house families with Section 8 vouchers.

Morra said information about all families living in Amherst who have Section 8 vouchers is not easy to obtain. In addition, a memo from the committee indicated that the benefit might only go to property owners: “The implementation group was not convinced that reducing or eliminating the $100 rental permit fee would likely benefit the family occupying the subsidized dwelling unit.”

Town Manager John Musante said applications for rental permits will be available on the town’s website starting Dec. 1. Town officials are also hiring an additional building inspector and administrative assistant being funded by the program.

“Those positions will be in place as we head into the new year,” Musante said.

Meanwhile, the Housing and Sheltering Committee meets at 6 p.m. Wednesday to discuss a proposal to seek $150,000 from the Community Preservation Act account. This money, if approved by the CPA Committee and then Town Meeting next spring, would be used to assist families who will have more out-of-pocket expenses for their rentals, possibly starting Jan. 1, if the value of their vouchers is reduced.

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