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Affordable housing project in Amherst getting closer to groundbreaking

Olympia Oaks, a 42-unit project that will provide housing for low-income families and individuals, as well as workforce housing, is set to begin construction around Aug. 1, said Rudy Perkins, a project manager for HAP Housing Inc.

Perkins recently told the Select Board he has pegged Aug. 1 as both the closing date for the needed funding and the construction start date.

“We will start construction the day we close,” Perkins said.

The $8.5 million project is coming together through an assortment of funding. This includes $1.72 million in Department of Housing and Community Development Housing Stabilization and Investment Trust Fund financing, Massachusetts Housing Equity Fund for a tax credit equity investment of $8.4 million, eight project-based federal Section 8 subsidies, a $100,000 commitment from the Interfaith Housing Corp., $4,000 in energy incentives per unit from Western Massachusetts Electric Co. and $250,000 appropriated through the town’s Community Preservation Act account.

Perkins said all funding is either formally committed or funding commitment letters are in hand.

“I can’t guarantee the funding is absolutely there, but this is as good as you get at the beginning of the closing process,” Perkins said.

The start date will also depend on a federal Housing and Urban Development review, Perkins said, but he said this shouldn’t be a concern.

“It looks good right now,” Perkins said.

Still, the Select Board recently approved a land development agreement extension from June 30 to Aug. 31 to ensure that HAP begins the work on the 13 acres within the specified time period. Construction is expected to last a year.

The town purchased the 27 acres of land for both conservation and affordable housing in the 1980s, and then selected HAP to take the lead on developing the housing stock.

In April 2011, the project received its comprehensive permit under the state’s chapter 40B affordable housing law from Amherst’s Zoning Board of Appeals.

Site preparation work, including removal of trees, has already been done.

Town Meeting next week will consider accepting Olympia Drive as a public way and giving the Select Board the ability to provide easements for utility work on the site.

“We believe we’re ready for the road acceptance,” said Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek, who has been working with HAP.

Town Manager John Musante said the goal for 25 years has been getting affordable housing ready.

“These are the real live action steps to get us there,” Musante said.

HAP will pay for the improvements to the road, with the town not expected to be responsible for any of the expenses.

Town Meeting could have accepted the road in the fall, but Select Board Chairwoman Stephanie O’Keeffe said town officials were concerned about taking responsibility for winter road maintenance.

Town Meeting previously accepted easements from East Pleasant Street to the site for the purpose of installing utilities.

Once built, Olympia Oaks will join the smaller, 26-unit Butternut Farm on Longmeadow Drive as a project led by HAP and the only two projects built under comprehensive permits in the last 12 years.

Musante said Butternut has been positive for the town.

“It’s a well-managed project and the renters and HAP have made a good effort at outreach,” Musante said.

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