A new group in Amherst, Affordable Housing for Amherst, recently sent a survey to all town council candidates. I am excited to be receiving surveys on the issues to respond to. It is my pleasure to share my responses here.
- During the past year the Select Board included the following in its priorities for long range planning for the Town Manager: “Supporting the preservation, maintenance and creation of housing that is safe, decent, and affordable for low- and moderate-income individuals and families”. Do you support continuing to make this a Town priority?
The inaugural Town Council will be tasked with prioritizing several matters of a time-sensitive nature during its first three years, including organizing the Council, dealing with the four large capital projects in the works, and planning. When considering the 2010 Master Plan, planning includes working towards making Amherst more affordable to a wider variety of individuals and families. According to the 2013 Housing Production Plan, there are significant needs for the following:
- family rental housing, particularly for families with very low income;
- smaller affordable units for individuals;
- appropriate housing for students to reduce demand on the housing market in Amherst;
- preservation of existing affordable rental units;
- affordable home ownership for families of low and moderate income; and
- housing for at-risk and special needs residents who require special services and handicapped accessibility.
Only some of these significant needs are addressed by the stated priority of “supporting the preservation, maintenance and creation of housing that is safe, decent, and affordable for low- and moderate-income individuals and families”. The Town Council needs to address all of the significant needs identified in the Housing Production Plan, not just those related to low- and moderate-income individuals and families. Therefore, I support working holistically to address Amherst’s housing needs. This will require the Town Council to adopt a deliberate, coherent, and open approach to planning – one that includes significant conversations with residents, potential changes to our bylaws, and adopting policies outside of bylaws to support reducing housing costs in Amherst.
- The Trust anticipates needing the support and/or approval of the Town Council in the following three areas during the coming calendar year:
- Release of an RFP to allow a small, affordable housing development on the site of the East Street School, which would require that the Town sell the property to a successful bidder at nominal cost.
- Support for the development of studio apartments for low income individuals (less than 80% AMI), some of whom would be homeless.
- Development of a 40R district within Amherst that would allow for denser development than is otherwise now allowed by Town zoning bylaws.
If you are elected to the Town Council, do you believe that you could support these initiatives? What reservations might you have about these?
In the recent past, the Amherst Affordable Housing Trust has identified significant needs in Amherst for family rental housing, small affordable units for individuals, affordable homeownership, and appropriate housing for students. All three of these initiatives address at least one of these identified significant needs. In addition, these three areas address a number of the 2010 Master Plan Housing Objectives, including encouraging a greater mix of housing types, sizes, and prices; expanding the number of affordable and moderately-priced rental units; increasing infill development, and locating housing developments near services.
Since I support the implementation of the Master Plan, as a general policy, I expect I would support these initiatives. However, since none of these initiatives are actual proposals at this time, I cannot say definitively whether the actual proposals would garner my support. As a Town Councilor, I would review every proposal in detail with an eye towards whether the proposal is consistent with the Master Plan, supports the general goals and priorities of our town residents, and is in Amherst’s best interests. I would also listen to the appropriate committees and Town staff and seek out the views of residents once actual proposals are presented to the Council. Only after that, would I be able to definitively state whether I support each specific initiative.
- The Amherst seasonal shelter under the management of Craig’s Doors has frequently experienced threats to its funding in the past few years. As a member of Town Council, what could you do to assure future funding, and what other efforts to assist individuals and families who are homeless or at risk of homelessness do you think the Town should support?
Craig’s Doors provides a valuable service to Amherst’s most vulnerable residents in winter. They rely on earmarked funds in the state budget to operate, and the disbursement of these funds each year is essential for them to stay open throughout the winter. As a Town Councilor, I would be able to lobby Amherst’s state representative and senator, as well as the Governor, for the continued earmarking of funds to support Craig’s Doors, as well as the release of such funds once the budget is enacted. In addition, as a Town Councilor, I would be able to continue to support recommendations, if made by the Community Preservation Act Committee, to allocate CPA funds to Craig’s Doors. I would also back the use of Community Development Block Grant funds to support Craig’s Doors, provided Amherst remains a CDBG community and the CDBG Advisory Committee recommends such funding.
In addition to funding Craig’s Doors, I believe the Town should continue to support the use of a portion of CDBG and CPA funds to assist individuals and families who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. The long-running procedures for allocating this money, I believe, is likely the best way for Amherst to ensure that the Town is appropriating this money in the most optimal way to support individuals and families in need.