Pennie Marcus: Amherst must address its ‘housing insecurity’
To the editor:
When James Cherewatti bought Echo Village in January and raised rents 20 to 40 percent, apartments became unaffordable for many of the tenants. Since then some families have moved out of Amherst, others are still looking for apartments and several are fighting eviction in housing court. As Scott Merzbach reported Aug. 10, a previously stable, diverse community is being dismantled.
The former owner of Echo Village, Jerry Gates, is an Amherst resident, considered by many to be a housing advocate. Yet he sold Echo Village to an investor with a record of undermining family housing in favor of student rentals. Gates continues to hold the mortgage on this property.
I wish Gates and Cherewatti had taken more responsibility for their community — and the situation of tenants at Echo Village — when they brokered this deal. As they both know well, Amherst lacks sufficient affordable housing for low- and moderate-income families. The very least Cherewatti could do now is to stop the evictions while the town explores affordability options.
And why hasn’t Amherst been more assertive in its response? The town’s Housing and Production Plan calls for the addition of 48 units of affordable housing annually for the next five years. Preserving affordability at Echo Village would fulfill half of one year’s goal without requiring construction.
The situation for low- and moderate-income tenants in Amherst will probably get worse soon when the owners of Rolling Green pre-pay their mortgage to end affordability there. Forty-one additional households could be disrupted. There’s been a lot of discussion in recent years about food insecurity.
What’s emerging now in Amherst is housing insecurity and its devastating effects.