Trust presses Amherst for affordable housing focus

  • The East Street School in Amherst has been turned into affordable housing. TOWN OF AMHERST

Staff Writer
Published: 8/31/2019 6:05:12 PM

AMHERST — A continued challenge for low- and moderate-income families to find homes in Amherst is prompting officials to consider adopting a policy that would focus on creating more affordable housing.

The Amherst Affordable Housing Trust is urging the Town Council to support a policy that would push for having 250 units of new housing constructed over the next five to 10 years for families who earn at or below 80 percent of the area median income.

“Frankly, 250 units is not that much,” said trust Chairman John Hornik.

Hornik told councilors last week that while he appreciates the support they have given to conversion of the former East Street School into affordable housing, as well as turning the 132 Northampton Road home into an enhanced single-room occupancy dwelling by Valley Community Development Corp., these are putting just a small dent in the housing need.

“We have an affordable housing crisis in Amherst and we need to commit to more,” Hornik said.

Rental housing for families and individuals, preserving existing affordable rental housing and affordable homeownership are all goals of the policy. The Community Resources Committee, the Planning Board and the Community Preservation Act Committee are expected to examine the policy before it is brought back to the Town Council for adoption in the fall.

Hornik pointed to the continued pressure of college students living off campus as one of the major reasons market-rate housing is in short supply. Statistics show that the number of University of Massachusetts students not housed on campus has increased from 12,570 in 2000 to 16,471 this fall. Many of these students will be living in homes and apartments that might have otherwise been available to families and individuals.

The loss of families in Amherst has been pronounced, with a projected drop of more than 1,000 school-age children from Amherst public schools in the past 20 years, Hornik said. 

The pressure from off-campus housing is also illustrated in the Section 8 vouchers administered by the Amherst Housing Authority, which over the past two years has issued 70 vouchers but only had 16 leased for Amherst homes, according to figures Hornik provided.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at
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