Guest column: Solving an ongoing, an invisible, housing crisis in Amherst

  • View of proposed new mixed-use buildings on East Pleasant Street from Kendrick Park, with existing Kendrick Place building to the far left. Submitted Illustration Submitted illustration

Published: 8/15/2019 5:08:34 PM
Modified: 8/15/2019 5:08:24 PM
Solving an ongoing, and invisible, housing crisis in Amherst

An open letter to the Amherst community and Town Council: For those who have not been able to buy a home in Amherst, rising rents are a source of severe pain for many. Statistics show that approximately 50 percent of Amherst’s renters are paying more than 50 percent of their income for rent. The generally accepted standard for sustainable household budgets is 30 percent of income.

This simple statistic distills a world of hardship. Families are choosing between food, medical bills, clothing, tuition, and paying the rent — leading to illness and poverty. But for those who are priced out of their homes, there is another option — leave Amherst. They leave family and friends and, often, the community they grew up in, seeking cheaper housing elsewhere.

So, for those of us who are lucky enough to have secure housing in Amherst, these problems are largely invisible. Many of the victims have simply disappeared from our sight. This redistribution of people by income, which correlates highly with race and ethnicity, is not unique to our region.

However, the Springfield metropolitan area ranks among the highest in the nation in such segregation. This was brought home recently to the members of the Amherst Municipal Affordable Housing Trust by a resident who tearfully described her struggle to stay in Amherst and her conviction that she will soon need to leave because of rising rents. She begged the committee to do everything in its power to make Amherst more affordable to people like her and her family.

Residential development in Amherst is booming. But aside from a few token affordable units, the vast majority of these new units are well beyond the reach of many of Amherst’s renters. Very few developers come to Amherst committed to expanding the supply of affordable housing.

Amherst desperately needs their continued investment. We need their skill, their commitment, the money they can raise, and their experience to make these extremely complex projects successful. Attracting those rare developers with funding, tax incentives, zoning changes, land, and other incentives is key to mitigating this ongoing, if often invisible, crisis.

And when they do come and propose a project, we should look closely at the plan and work with them to correct any flaws. But, in the interest of all of those who desperately need such housing, we must find ways to ensure its ultimate success.

Kathleen Anderson

John Hornik

Maura Keene

Thomas Kegelman

Carol Lewis

John Page

The authors are members of the Amherst Affordable Housing Coalition.


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