Amherst Town Council eyes housing disruption from UMass project

  • University of Massachusetts, Amherst officials speak to the Amherst Town Council and residents.  STAFF PHOTO/GRETA JOCHEM

Staff Writer
Published: 10/7/2019 11:42:56 PM

AMHERST — About 75 residents — many of them University of Massachusetts graduate students — packed into the Town Council meeting on Monday night to hear and question university officials on plans to demolish and rebuild two apartment complexes.

UMass plans to tear down the North Village Apartments and Lincoln Apartments and build two new student housing apartment complexes in their place. The university announced last week it is seeking a public-private partnership for the project.

Last month, residents of North Village, a family housing complex for students, were notified that their homes would be razed and they had until June 2020 to move out.

“I’ve been living in North Village Apartments for about five years,” 11-year-old Saara Rathod told the Town Council on Monday. “I have a lot of friends there and it’s really safe.”

She does not want to leave.

“Where we’re going there’s probably not going to be a playground with open space,” she said.

The Town Council devoted more than an hour of its meeting to the topic, although member Alisa Brewer cautioned that the council has little authority over the project.

Residents of the complex, where many international graduate students and their families live, have been expressing worry about displacement from their homes and the disruption of a tight-knit community.

At Monday’s meeting, UMass officials said that the Brandywine Apartments and Presidential Apartments in Amherst may be temporary housing for the displaced residents, and reiterated that residents would continue to pay the rents they are currently paying, and the university will pay for utilities. When the new complex is complete, families will be able to move back and pay the same rent, with any “customary” increases such as inflation.

Still, residents and their supporters aired concerns and questions for UMass officials before the Town Council.

Shaoyu Tseng, a graduate student living at North Village Apartments, asked how the town can hold the university accountable.

“This is really critical for us,” she said.

North Village resident Jonas Schmidt said that as somebody who returned to school as a non-traditional student and single parent, he knows that affordability is important and worried that future families who live in the apartments could see rent increases.

“I think I would like to see a firmer commitment from the university that whatever development, there would be assurances that these units would be affordable,” he said.

Brewer said the council will continue to ask questions.

“The university has all the power to make this be a kind of affordable housing,” she said. “If later we hear it turned out to be really expensive so we had to charge a lot more for the people who cycled back … we will be really upset.”

Council members had questions about the Amherst Family Center, which the university is slated to shutter in June 2020. Some North Village residents requested stay open.

“I think that’s another structure that’s really needed,” said council memberDorothy Pam.

“I don’t think we’re ready to comment on that one here at this point,” said Tony Maroulis, executive director of external relations at UMass, in response to questions about the center.

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.




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