East Gables housing project in Amherst set to break ground in March


Staff Writer

Published: 02-27-2022 8:07 AM

AMHERST — Construction of 28 small studio apartments for low-income individuals, including more than a third that will be set aside for those who have recently been homeless, is expected to begin by mid-March.

The Valley Community Development project at 132 Northampton Road, to be called East Gables, is nearing its groundbreaking on the site acquired by the agency three years ago, and which received a comprehensive permit under the state's Chapter 40B law in November 2020.

Laura Baker, Valley’s real estate development director, said Thursday that mobilization by general contractor Western Builders of Granby will be the first signs of the project commencing. That will include installation of fencing and the placement of a construction trailer, with asbestos abatement then taking place inside the single-family home before it is torn down to make way for the new 2½ -story building.

The project begins even as there has been a significant increase, nearly a 20% rise, in the anticipated cost of the project, now closer to $6 million than the $5 million estimate.

“We’re definitely feeling the impact of escalating construction prices,” Baker said.

East Gables is largely supported through state funding from the Department of Housing and Community Development, with the largest source being tax credits from the Low Income Housing Tax Program. More than $700,000 was also provided by the town through Community Preservation Act account and Community Development Block Grant, $100,000 from the Interfaith Housing Corp. and $50,000 from the Amherst Housing Authority.

When complete in summer 2023, each unit will be about 240 square feet and have a kitchenette and bathroom, with the building also including common areas and a provider office to have onsite supportive services. It will be fully accessible and every unit will be visitable, Baker said. Other amenities include on-site laundry, an outdoor patio, and a covered bike rack, and all utilities are included in rent.

Residents who make 30% to 80% of area median income will be eligible for a future lottery, with 20 apartments for people earning 60% or less of average median income, and 10 having preference for those who have been homeless and two having preference for clients of the Department of Mental Health. There is also a local preference for people who live and work in town.

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Baker said people interested in living there should contact Valley in early 2023.

John Hornik, chairman of the town’s Affordable Municipal Affordable Housing Trust, wrote in an email that it is great to see the project on track following the permitting process in town and some concerns from neighbors.

“We are very pleased to see the project moving ahead as planned,” Hornik wrote. “That’s an excellent outcome, and one not always assured.”

The building is designed to Passive House standards for maximum energy efficiency, Baker said, including rooftop solar panels and no use of fossil fuel sources. That will save money on operation costs that can be reinvested in on-site operations. 

The project is one of two active Valley Community Development is involved with, the other being the $13 million development of 33 apartments of senior housing at 120 North Main St. in Sunderland, where Rural Development, Inc. is the lead agency.

There are also a number of others in the pipeline, with the recently announced plan for the Northampton Rehabilitation and Nursing Center at 737 Bridge Road, a $25.3 million project that would create 60 units of affordable housing.

Baker said other sites are also being explored for development in Northampton, Amherst and Hadley.

Once East Gables opens, Baker said that won’t eliminate the pressure on having available places for low-income people to live in the region.

“There just isn’t enough affordable housing,” Baker said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.