Mandi Responds to the Affordable Housing Advocacy Coalition Questionnaire

Mandi Jo has consistently supported affordable housing in her first term. Below are her responses to the Amherst Affordable Housing Advocacy Coalition’s questionnaire.

  1. The draft Comprehensive Town Housing Policy calls for the development of 250 new affordable housing units for low-income individuals and families, including persons who do not have housing, persons of color, and persons who are older adults (over 60 years of age).  As a member of Town Council, would you support this goal and what would you do to assure implementation of this goal and others included in the draft plan?

Amherst has a housing crisis. We do not have enough housing available for those who want to live here. Our housing, both rental prices and purchase prices, is too expensive for a large swath of our residents or potential residents to be able to afford without being burdened. And we do not provide the variety of housing types that our residents desire. The Council, through the hard work of both the Community Resources Committee, which I chair, and the Affordable Housing Trust, town staff and others, has begun addressing this crisis by adopting a Comprehensive Housing Policy. If re-elected, I intend to propose legislation and other measures that will address each of these Goals, beyond what I have already done.

I was an original sponsor of the Resolution in Support of Right to Counsel in Eviction Cases and Eviction Sealing to Promote Housing Opportunity and Mobility. This legislation would directly address Goals I, II, and III, allowing people to maintain security in the homes they are in and permitting them greater opportunity to obtain alternate housing.

One important measure of whether the goals of Promoting Greater Pathways to Homeownership and Integrated Communities through Increased Supply of a Diversity of Housing Types and Increasing the Supply and Variety of Affordable and Market Rate Rental Housing are met is tracking new affordable housing units. The Policy recognizes this by stating that a minimum of 250 new units affordable for those with an income of 80% AMI or less is necessary to begin addressing the housing crisis. In order to assure we make measureable progress towards addressing the housing crisis, the Council will need to identify surplus property and make the requisite transfers to the AMAHT, support, though CPA funding, the development of affordable housing, and monitor and modify, if necessary,  the inclusionary zoning bylaw to ensure that market-rate housing development aids in providing affordable units.

2. Town-owned land can be an important resource in the development of affordable housing because the costs are reduced by employing this property.  The Amherst Affordable Municipal Housing Trust is considering plan for a low-income, homeownership development on Strong Street, which is Town-owned, and a rental development for older adults at Hickory Ridge Golf Course, which is expected to become Town-owned property in the next two months.  As a member of Town Council, would you support using these properties for affordable housing, and what would you do to assure implementation?

In general, I support the wise use of surplus Town property for affordable housing. However, I cannot state whether these two parcels are appropriate for affordable housing or not without more information.

In particular, many potential uses for the Hickory Ridge buildable acreage have been proposed. Affordable housing is only one option. Other options, including senior housing and mixed use developments, would also result in additional affordable housing in Amherst, while also potentially providing other, necessary housing to meet the goals of the proposed Comprehensive Housing Policy. There may also be other uses that compete with the potential housing uses, and the competing needs of the Town must be discussed and identified before I can declare my support for one use over another.

3. For many years single family houses in Amherst have been purchased by entrepreneurs who convert these to student rentals.  This has gradually eliminated many “starter” family homes for new families coming into Town.  As a member of Town Council, what would you do to change this direction?

The housing crisis in Town is caused by many factors, including the Town’s purchase of potentially developable land for open space, recreation, and agriculture preservation, the economics of student housing as related to non-student housing, and the enactment of zoning policies that limit the density of housing in all residential areas of Town.  I support many zoning initiatives that are intended to help address the crisis caused by these Town policies. In particular, I support allowing homeowners to build Accessory Dwelling Units by right (without requiring a public hearing), the creation of a bylaw for 3-family dwellings so they are not lumped in with apartments, and ending single-family only by-right zoning districts. I also support stricter inspection requirements for obtaining a rental registration permit in Amherst and am currently drafting revisions to the rental registration bylaw to address this issue. I am hopeful that these initiatives, and others, would result in more homeownership opportunities that are affordable to lower income individuals and families.

4. The Town Council has adopted an ECAC goal of carbon neutrality by 2050.  Among the important elements of this would be weatherization and converting existing heating systems to more efficient systems that rely on heat pump technology, particularly for existing multi-unit buildings.  This is expected to improve the quality of heating, improve air quality, and reduce costs.  As a member of Town Council, would you support spending Town resources (e.g., American Rescue Plan funds) on meeting this goal, and what would you do to assure implementation?

I was the primary drafter and co-sponsor of the Resolution in Support of S. 868, An Act Empowering Cities and Towns to Impose a Fee on Certain Real Estate Transactions to Support Affordable Housing, and S. 1853, An Act Providing for Climate Change Adaptation Infrastructure and Affordable Housing Investments in the Commonwealth. This legislation, if enacted, will provide funds to our Affordable Housing Trust for their work in creating, supporting, and developing deed-restricted affordable housing, both rented and owned, in Amherst (Goal V). It will also provide the opportunity for Amherst to receive grants from the state to retrofit existing housing stock to address climate sustainability and resiliency (Goal IV).  These bills would provide additional state and municipal funds to help move our housing stock onto more efficient and carbon neutral systems.

As for the American Rescue Plan funds, I support using those funds to help those who were most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic – first responders, those who experienced job and business loss, and those groups who were disproportionately affected by infections due to various societal structural issues. This may include using some of the funds to help retrofit existing housing stock in multi-unit buildings, but in doing so, I believe we need to ensure that if money is spent in this manner, the utility bill savings from such conversions are proportionately passed on to the tenants, not just used to increase the profits of the owners.