The cost of housing in Amherst has concerned residents and officials for years. Support for 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.
At the Town Council meeting this Monday, the Council will hear a request to approve a Request for Proposals (RFP) to select a developer to convert the town’s East Street property to affordable housing.
The property is centered on the old East Street School at 31 South East St. Town Meeting approved using this property for affordable housing in May 2018, and authorized the Select Board to transfer the property. It is now up to the Town Council to approve moving forward. During the campaign for seats on the Council, the idea of developing affordable housing at East Street received general support from the candidates.
The proposed RFP has been drafted by the Amherst Municipal Affordable Housing Trust (AMAHT). Final approval of a developer will transfer the property to the selected developer with a 99-year lease.
This project cannot move forward until an RFP is approved. Potential developers will compete with conceptual plans and proposals to meet the requirements of the RFP. The selected developer will need a signed agreement with the town in order to make a commitment of its own funds, to apply for funding from state agencies, and to apply for necessary town permits.
The draft RFP requires:
• A minimum of 15 rental units, with 24 bedrooms for individuals and families with at least 50 percent affordable at 60 percentof Annual Median Income (AMI) with a mix of bedroom sizes from studio to 3 bedrooms;
• A minimum of 10 percent affordable to households earning 30 percent of AMI;
• All affordable units must meet Department of Housing and Community Development requirements for the Subsidized Housing Inventory and must be affordable in perpetuity;
• Cost-effective, energy-efficient, creative design, including as much as possible green building technology and solar resources;
• A minimum of one parking space per unit;
• Continued public access to the recreation land in back by granting easement to the Town;
• An acceptable management plan.
The town will select the developer, who will then seek funding and develop a proposed design. The final number of units will depend on town review, available financing, and the design created by the developer. The Housing Trust has put a priority on two-bedroom units because that is the size with the longest waiting list in recent years.
While the RFP calls for energy-efficient construction, and provides for the possibility of reusing the existing East Street School, it does not require either, since the goal is to build units that are affordable. Reusing the building may prove to be too expensive; no one knows the cost of removing lead and asbestos from the school. The need to keep costs down is also a reason that the land will be leased rather than sold.
The back lot is a wetland, and will remain as recreational land.