Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Render Unto Ceasar

Echo Village:  Under New Management (and ownership)

So I guess it should come as no surprise that the first thing Eagle Crest Management does with their recently acquired $3 million property is to raise the rents, thus forcing out most of the clientele in the 24 unit apartment complex, many of them low income, Section 8 tenants.

Quite the ecosystem at work:  Jamie Cherewatti buys the property, valued at $2.1 million, from Jerry Gates who is on the Board of Directors for Craig's Doors Homeless Shelter.  Good thing the Amherst Select Board recently ignored Town Manager John Musante's less than enthusiastic support and allowed the shelter to expand from 16 to 22 beds.

When he appeared before the Zoning Board of Appeals last April to testify in behalf of his successful request to double occupancy at 156 Sunset Avenue, Jamie Cherewatti said plaintively, "I don't want to be known as the slumlord of Amherst."

So maybe he plans to invest millions in the Echo Hill apartment units and rent to upscale blue bloods.  Or maybe not.  Perhaps he will just replace the current, sometime problematic clients, with his usual Modus Operandi, students.  

These days Cherewatti seems to be diversifying his property holdings using a variety of legal entities:  He moved Eagle Crest, his real estate management company, to above one of the more rowdy bars in downtown Amherst -- Stacker's -- after buying the building.   Plus ownership of a slew of expanded rentals all over town, as well as managing a number of units that have earned my prestigious,  'Party House of the Weekend' award

No matter what his final plans are for Echo Village Apartments it's clear the 24 units will no longer be considered "affordable" by state definition.  And when Amherst is already less than 1% above the threshold for the ultimate bogeyman, a Chapter 40B development coming to town, every single affordable unit matters.

This will be used by some landlords as ammunition to try to shoot down rental registration/permit system bylaw coming to Town Meeting this spring.  The argument will be that Amherst strangles developers in red tape so no one will want to build housing in town -- affordable or market rate -- thus increasing the likely hood of falling below the 10% threshold.

Of course after the Gateway Project was scuttled by NIMBYs, perhaps a 40-B development is the only way to make serious gains on our chronic rental housing shortage.

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