Amherst Town Council OKs affordable housing project

  • 132 Northampton Rd in Amherst where the Single Occupancy Housing is proposed to go.

Staff Writer
Published: 7/2/2019 12:15:38 AM

AMHERST — By a nearly unanimous vote Monday, the Town Council approved Community Preservation Act funding for a proposed 28-unit affordable housing project at 132 Northampton Road.

The vote was 11 in favor and one abstention to appropriate $500,000 for the Valley Community Development Corp. project. District 5 Councilor Shalini Bahl-Milne was not in attendance at the meeting.

“We’re of course pleased that it got funded,” said Laura Baker, Valley CDC real estate project manager.

Of the units in the proposed development, all of which would be single room occupancy units, eight would be reserved for those making $31,050 annually or less; eight would be reserved for those making $49,700 or less; 10 would be reserved for those making $18,650 or less, with a preference for the homeless; and two units  would be reserved for those making $18,650 or less who are clients of the Department of Mental Health.

The project has drawn objections from several people in the neighborhood, some of whom used the public comment period on the matter to once again note their disapproval.

“I have never been against affordable housing,” said abutting neighbor Barbara Gravin Wilbur.

She went on to suggest that the city focus on providing affordable housing for families over single people.

Neighborhood resident Aimee Gilbert Loinaz said she is a public health professional, and said there would be a need for 24-hour-a-day, seven-days-a-week services at the facility.

“Where is the programming expertise?” she asked.

She also criticized the development process for a lack of neighborhood outreach, and suggested that the screening process Valley CDC uses for tenants could be in danger of violating the law.

District 3 Councilor Dorothy Pam, who abstained in the final vote, suggested that the council wait on voting for the project.

“I am asking that we postpone this vote tonight,” she said.

She expressed a desire to see more about the supervision plan for the site from Valley CDC, and expressed concern at the prospect of tenants not being able to have overnight guests. She also said that those who have asked questions have been shamed and accused of opposing affordable housing and hating homeless people.

“That’s not true for me and I don’t think it’s true for the residents,” she said.

Asked after the vote about the overnight guest policy, Baker said that no policy forbidding overnight guests has been decided on for the 132 Northampton Road property. Baker also said that none of Valley CDC’s properties has 24-hour supervision.

“It is not typical in affordable housing,” she said

Pam’s suggestion to delay the vote didn’t gain traction with her fellow councilors.

“I find it incredible that anyone would say that this has been rushed,” said District 4 Councilor Evan Ross, who said he first learned about it in January.

“It’s been consuming more time than any other singular issue,” he said.

“To delay would be ridiculous,” said District 2 Councilor Patricia De Angelis.

Nevertheless, De Angelis did say that both sides of the issue needed to find more ways to talk across distances and move forward together.

Some of the councilors also said that issues with the plan would be best figured out in the zoning process.

Speaking in favor of the project, resident John Page noted that he himself had grown up in affordable housing.

“Amherst needs the people that need affordable housing,” he said, naming teachers, firefighters, people getting started in their careers, seniors and people with disabilities as beneficiaries.

Nate Buddington, who chairs the town’s Community Preservation Act Committee, rejected the call for 24-hour-a-day supervision for the proposed development.

“This isn’t a halfway house and it’s not a mental health facility,” he said. “It’s housing for low-income people.”Baker said the next step for the project will be to prepare a package to get a project eligibility letter from the state, after which an application would be submitted to the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.




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