Amherst building commissioner puts developer on warning

Presidential Apartments must open 6 units as affordable by Oct. 18 or face $600 daily fine

  • Amherst Town Hall

Staff Writer
Published: 9/19/2017 9:20:39 PM

AMHERST — An apartment complex owner will be subject to fines of $600 per day if six affordable apartments that were supposed to be ready for occupancy Sept. 1 aren’t available to low- and moderate-income individuals and families by Oct. 18.

Building Commissioner Rob Morra on Monday sent a notice-of-violation letter to the owner of Presidential Apartments, 950 North Pleasant St., which opened 54 new units for 96 tenants in fall 2015 after receiving a special permit from the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals in 2013.

“The permit issued to Presidential requires that six units as described in the agreement will be offered to tenants that qualify under the affordable housing guidelines,” Morra wrote in the letter to Allen Cohn, manager of Amherst Presidential Village in West Hartford, Connecticut. “It has come to my attention that the town and the Amherst Housing Authority have been informed... that the six units are not available.”

“Continued failure to comply with this order will result in court actions,” Morra said.

The special permit required that six “low-rent” apartments be set aside because the expansion of the complex triggered the town’s inclusionary bylaw, which promotes development of affordable housing.

Morra said Tuesday that if these apartments are not available it means they are being used by tenants who are renting at the market rate. This, he said, is a clear violation and means he can impose the $100 per day fine for each unit that is not being rented to an eligible family.

“The special permit doesn’t allow for units to be rented to anyone else who don’t qualify,” Morra said.

These affordable apartments have since become so-called Local Action Units, meaning they will remain affordable for the next 30 years, as part of a regulatory agreement signed by the Select Board in May and approved by the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development in July.

Following this agreement, the Amherst Housing Authority was contracted to hold a lottery to identify future tenants who meet eligibility guidelines, which it did in August and forwarded those names to Kamins Real Estate. But the agency then had to notify winners that the units would not be available, forcing some to scramble to remain in their current housing or seek other accommodations.

Samantha Kaufman, spokeswoman for DHCD, said her agency sent a letter notifying the property owner he is in default of parts of the regulatory agreement.

But since DHCD only certified this regulatory agreement, and didn’t put state money or tax credits toward it, there is no coercive action it can take. Still, Kaufman said DHCD wants a positive resolution. “We’re working with the town to make sure we get a good outcome on this,” Kaufman said.

Cohn said he would hold off comment until he is in Amherst on Wednesday.

In a previous email, Cohn wrote that the families selected by the Amherst Housing Authority were unable to meet requirements, with challenging credit histories and insufficient funds.

In his years as a building commissioner, Morra said he doesn’t recall a similar instance, observing that property owners typically understand the requirements of having affordable units.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at

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