Housing & Sheltering Committee (and liaisons) this morning
This being Amherst, naturally I have to fall back on a Native American sounding designation title award for a relatively new committee with a very PC sounding official name: The Housing and Sheltering Committee.
The committee was born out of a merger between the Housing Partnership/Fair Housing Committee and The Committee on Homelessness, but only after the Select Board dissolved the two former committees. So I guess you could describe them as a Phoenix who arose from the ashes.
For a committee that only first met on May 30, 2012 they have made great strides towards becoming a political powerhouse. At this morning's meeting Select Board liaison Alisa Brewer stated in her usual succinct manner: "Planning Board members and Planning staff irritate some people. You come from a purer place ... your opinion matters."
And Planning Board liaison Connie Kruger (also former Amherst Senior Planner for 16 years) told the board it would be "political suicide not to include this committee in on zoning issues."
As a further example of the consolidation of political capital, HSC co-chair Greg Stutsman was recently appointed to the always influential Planning Board. If not for the fact both these boards are volunteer activities the state would probably disallow that as double dipping or a conflict of interest.
The HSC can take credit for one of the more influential consultant reports issued in the past 30 or 40 years, the "Housing Production Plan."
This report graphically illustrates the problems created when supply and demand are out of whack. And of course the largest creator of supply is the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, a town where 59% of the population are now "college aged youths."
The committee is considering ways of increasing housing supply through zoning changes, as well as possibly forming a land or housing trust to develop projects on their own. And with the highly regarded reputation they have established in just over a year, it could happen.
Amherst is now teetering on the brink of falling below the 10% affordable housing threshold thus opening the town up to a Chapter 40B mega housing project. Zoning changes to help increase the supply of affordable housing requires a difficult to attain two-thirds vote of Town Meeting.
The Housing & Sheltering Committee will certainly help lead the charge. And they stand an infinitely better chance than did "The Light Brigade."