Amherst selects developer for $27M affordable housing project

  • This rendering shows what an affordable housing project on Belchertown Road will look like when completed. WAY FINDERS

  • This rendering depicts an affordable housing project on East Street, with the former East Street School building at rear. WAY FINDERS

Staff Writer
Published: 3/18/2022 4:21:11 PM

AMHERST — Two sites in the East Amherst village center, including a vacant school building, will be developed into a $27 million, 70-apartment affordable housing project by Way Finders Inc., a Springfield nonprofit housing organization.

Amherst officials announced Thursday that Way Finders has been selected to handle the projects, which will include 29 apartments at the former East Street School site. Six of those units will be located in the school building, which will go through an adaptive reuse, while the remaining 23 will be in a new building next to the school that will feature New England-style architecture compatible with the school and surrounding homes.

An additional 40 units or so will be located in a new three-story building at 72, 76 and 80 Belchertown Road, properties totaling 2.6 acres that the town acquired last year using $600,000 from the  Community Preservation Act fund and $225,000 from the Affordable Housing Trust. The site is less than a mile southeast down Route 9 from the school site.

Based on a current timeline, the apartments would be ready for occupancy in 2026.

“We feel like it’s an achievable milestone,” says Way Finders President and CEO Executive Director Keith Fairey, observing that Way Finders has constructed 1,300 units throughout the Pioneer Valley and manages over 800 units.

The Amherst project, Fairey said, will depend on a mix of public and private funding sources, including housing tax credits from the state and federal governments, applications to the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development, and private capital and equity.

The selection of Way Finders in response to a request for proposals from the town follows the recommendation of a review committee, led by Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek, that examined a competing proposal from Home City Development Inc., also of Springfield.

Town Manager Paul Bockelman said in a statement that Way Finders is a reputable property manager that brings solid finances to its projects, and also understands town values, having completed two other affordable housing projects in Amherst — Butternut Farm on Longmeadow Drive and Olympia Oaks on Olympia Drive.

“The significant investment of town resources, including town land, town funds and town staff, will produce a large number of new affordable housing opportunities for members of our community,” Bockelman said.

Fairey expressed appreciation that his nonprofit’s plan was chosen.

“Way Finders shares Amherst’s demonstrated commitment to create greater housing affordability, choice and opportunity for individuals and families,” Fairey said.

The preliminary concept design calls for 18 units to be rented to households making 30% of the area median income, 27 units to be rented to those making 60% of the area median income, and 15 units of so-called “workforce housing,” rented to households making between 60% and 100% of the area median income. Ten units of market-rate housing also would be part of the project.

A final concept plan, including the mix of units, is expected to evolve with input from the town; the Amherst Municipal Affordable Housing Trust, an arm of town government devoted to developing affordable housing; neighbors and others.

John Hornik, chairman of the trust, wrote in a statement that he is pleased to see the development move forward.

Way Finders “presented an excellent proposal, including 70 residential units across the two sites, many of which will be available to low-income families at very affordable rents,” Hornik said.

But he added that there is a lot more work to do in town to provide housing for all people.

“In particular, we have to focus our efforts on opportunities for homeownership for low-income individuals and families, specifically for communities of color,” Hornik said, adding that projects for low-income senior citizens are also needed.

Both Way Finders developments will have on-site management, a community room, a laundry, bike storage and a mail area. Fairey said Way Finders’ ethos also includes making sure its projects are barrier-free and energy-efficient, with Green Communities certification to be sought. There will be solar collectors at the sites and well-insulated exteriors.

This marked the second time the town solicited developers for the East Street School, with an earlier ad yielding just one proposal that was rejected. That prompted the town to secure the additional land that allows for a larger project.

Another affordable housing project, to be known as East Gables and being undertaken by Valley Community Development of Northampton, is breaking ground this spring at 132 Northampton Road. That 28-apartment building was initially projected to cost $5 million, though the cost is now anticipated to be closer to $6 million.


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