Affordable Housing for Amherst

The League of Women Voters of Amherst helped the Amherst Municipal Affordable Housing Trust (AMAHT) present a forum on affordable housing for Amherst at the Crocker Farm School on November 1. The AMAHT's stated mission is "to promote the town's affordable housing priorities as determined through the most recent town housing plan, particularly to create safe, decent, and affordable housing for our most vulnerable populations."
The most recent plan is the 2013 Housing Production Plann, which identified a number of unmet housing needs: family rental housing, especially at the lower end of the income scale; affordable homeownership for families with low to moderate incomes; small affordable units for individuals, including those currently in shelters; appropriate housing for students to reduce the pressure on the Amherst housing market; and housing for at-risk and special needs populations requiring additional services.

The Trustees hope to be able to coordinate the use of CPA funds for affordable housing and the development of properties owned by the Town, as well as seeking support from various state-level funding sources. One of their current projects is the development of the East Street School site, which has been designated for the development of affordable housing. Over the summer, Kuhn Riddle Architects completed a study of the site and produced several conceptual alternatives. Three of these were presented at the November 1 forum, and then discussed by participants in small groups.

The major choices include:

  • Whether or not to retain the existing school building;
  • Alternative configurations for a supplementary apartment building, as well as its exterior appearance;
  • Use of the designated wetland that comprises the back portion of the property (more than half of the total area, and currently available as a playing field); and
  • Parking.

All of the designs presented offered about one parking space per unit, and all offered a "common space" for the use of residents. The apartment building, which would face the East Street Common in front of and north of the existing school, could be three or four stories, with various possibilities for roof and other articulation to break up the facade. Two of the three designs converted the existing school building into six one-bedroom units. The total number of units ranged from 24 to 34, and the total number of bedrooms from 36 to 69.

Reports from the small group generally approved of the parking ratio and the mixture of the number of bedrooms per unit (from studio apartments, missing from one of the three designs, to three-bedroom apartments), although it was noted that two-bedroom units seemed to be in highest demand at existing complexes. All favored minimizing the impact of a large apartment building by texture, roofline, and porches as well as appropriate plantings on the street (south) side. There was less agreement about keeping the existing school: while the building itself is structurally sound, and the suggested design offers six airy units with high ceilings, there was concern about the cost of making them energy-efficient and up-to-code, compared with the cost of tearing down the building and turning it into parking.

The Trust plans to use the resulting input to inform their preparation of an RFP for the site.

More information at the AMAHT web site, including links to a comprehensive housing market study from 2015 and a strategic plan for 2018-2022.