The Committee had its origin in early 2017, as a way to provide LWVA members opportunities to further inform themselves about local social issues, either by sponsoring or cosponsoring events, and whenever possible giving members opportunities to act on their concerns (by writing postcards to legislators, for example, or by bringing women's hygiene items to the Survival Center.) Immigration and the problems immigrants face, environmental issues, and issues like the social safety net and affordable housing were all subjects of programs in 2017-2018. In 2018-2019, affordable housing has been a major focus, as has turning potential students voters into actual ones.
The LWVA Social Justice Committee met twice during 2019.
1. The SJ committee recommended a speaker to the Steering Committee: Stuart Naifeh from Demos.
2. Amherst Voter Participation Stakeholders’ Roundtable - adapted from write ups by Adrienne Terrizzi and Marcie Sclove
Shortly after the November 2019 elections, Margaret Nartowicz, the Amherst Town Clerk invited all organizations and groups involved in voter education and outreach to attend a brainstorming meeting on December 7. Adrienne Terizzi attended as LWVA spokesperson to make certain we were involved in the Town's discussions and plans in the run up to the November 2020. The University and Colleges were well represented by staff and campus organizations. This first meeting explored systems to increase student voter awareness, especially early voting, potential for on campus voting sites and more diverse ways to inform students voting in Town.
On March 28th Marcie Sclove attended the next meeting which was set up as a roundtable and organized by Nartowicz and her assistant, Athena O’Keeffe. The meeting was convened to explore ways to improve voter participation of students, primarily UMass students. The goal is now to get more students registered, update registered voters who have moved, and then educate them about the upcoming elections and get them to the polls. Members of UMass Democrats and UMass Republicans and MASSPIRG attended as well as Sarah Barr, who has organized similar efforts at Amherst College.
Parts of the discussion included: Early Voting Polls on Campus, using voting software such as TurboVote to communicate with students, other ways to reach students via social media, having all student clubs participate in a campus wide registration campaign, and ways to encourage students to both vote early and/or get to the polling place on Election Day.
The Social Justice Committee will continue to explore ways the League can be helpful in these efforts.
3. Amherst Housing Coalition.
The League of Women Voters of Amherst is a member of the newly formed Amherst Affordable Housing Advocacy Coalition. Its 2001 position on housing supports the "provision of a variety of low and moderate income housing, both public and private, consistent with community needs."
The cost of housing in Amherst has concerned residents and officials for years. Increasing the number of housing units for people with incomes at or below the median income for the area is included in the town’s Master Plan. Nevertheless, very little housing was built in Amherst in the decades of 1980 to 2010, and even less of that was affordable.
The League believes everyone should have access to decent and affordable housing; it supports programs, policies and regulations to address the housing needs of low- and moderate-income families and individuals.
There are two projects in the planning stages to add affordable housing in Amherst.
East Street School
One of these projects, which will be located at the old East Street School, has passed a major step – the Town Council on April 1 approved sending out a Request for Proposals (RFP) seeking a developer to design it.
The general plan includes between 15 and 36 units, with:
- A minimum of 15 rental units with 24 bedrooms for individuals and families with at least 50% affordable at 60% of Annual Median Income (AMI) with a mix of bedroom sizes from studio to 3 bedrooms;
- A minimum of 10% affordable to households earning 30% of AMI.
All affordable units will be energy efficient, affordable in perpetuity, and have at least one parking space.
The League commented in favor of this proposal at the Town Council meeting on March 18. The Town Council supported it on April 1.
Valley Community Development Corporation (Valley) is working to create 28 studio-size (240 square feet) units for the lowest income people along Northampton Road. Valley will provide both onsite and offsite services for residents who need them. The site is within walking distance of both the center of town and stores on University Drive; it is on a major transportation route. The initial proposal is for a combination of
- 10 units for homeless people who make no more than 30% of the Area Median Income (AMI) – which will be subsidized
- 8 units for people who earn up to 50% AMI – who will pay their own rent
- 8 units for 80% AMI – who will pay their own rent
- 2 units for 30% AMI clients of the Department of Mental Health
This kind of housing cannot be built or maintained without significant subsidies. Therefore, the Amherst Municipal Affordable Housing Trust (AMAHT) requested $500,000 in funding from the Community Preservation Account (CPA); in late April the CPA approved that request. The Trust is also requesting $200,00 from the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG).
League support before the Zoning Board (probably June) would be helpful.