500-plus apply for 28 affordable units in Amherst

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 07-17-2023 5:08 PM

AMHERST — More than 500 people are interested in becoming the first tenants at East Gables, a housing project with 28 efficiency apartments for low- and moderate-income individuals scheduled to open in the early fall at 132 Northampton Road.

More than three months before the Valley Community Development project is ready for occupancy, the demand for affordable housing was seen when the Northampton nonprofit agency held a lottery for the apartments on June 1. That lottery received 501 applications.

“It’s very sobering, honestly, to have that many applicants,” Laura Baker, Valley’s real estate development director, told the Amherst Municipal Affordable Housing Trust at its meeting last Thursday.

Almost 400 of those who put their names into the lottery qualify as earning at or below 30% area median income, or $19,800, while 280 of the applications came from people who are unhoused, Baker said.

Baker told the committee that the lottery illustrates the need for more affordable housing.

“There’s this pressure point, while it’s bad all over, there are some parts of our housing system that are just under tremendous duress,” Baker said.

Her initial overview of the East Gables lottery came as members of the trust are putting together a report that will be provided to town officials for addressing the affordable housing situation.

Rents for each unit will be variable and based on income. These apartments 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 on-site supportive services. Other amenities include on-site laundry, an outdoor patio and a covered bike rack, and all utilities are included in rent. Though there are 28 apartments in the building, two are reserved for individuals referred from the state’s Department of Mental Health.

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During the trust’s meeting, member Aschleigh Jensen said one concern she has is that affordable apartments often require people to pay the first and last months’ rent, along with a security deposit, making these places cost prohibitive.

Baker said since 12 of the 28 apartments at East Gables will have a project-based rental subsidy, that means the rent will be, at most, 30% of income for those individuals. In those cases, the security deposit and first month’s rent will also be just 30% of the normal security deposit and rent.

Baker also assured the trust that the costs of moving in will not inhibit anyone from living there. “Our property management team are very skilled at helping people find the cash to move in,” Baker said.

Six apartments will be for people earning $32,950 or less, or 60% of area median income, and paying $685 to $799 monthly rent, and six will be for people earning $52,750, and paying $795 to $1,178 monthly rent.

Another housing project Valley CDC is undertaking in Amherst is the affordable homeownership development on Ball Lane. The 30 homes there will be deed restricted to low- to moderate-income, first-time homebuyer households, with a preference for first-time homebuyers who meet the CommonWealth Builders program purchaser requirements.

Baker said the project is expected to seek a comprehensive permit through the Zoning Board of Appeals later this year.

Housing of all types is in high demand throughout the region and is in particularly short supply in Amherst due to college students living off campus. Students protested in the spring about insufficient on-campus options for housing, particularly for juniors and seniors. Last fall, the EconoLodge hotel in Hadley became an off-campus dormitory for UMass transfer students.

UMass President Marty Meehan, speaking on TV station WCVB’s “On The Record” program over the weekend, said a similar situation wouldn’t play out this fall.

“We’re in good shape now in terms of having enough housing because we built several units of housing,” Meehan said.

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