RKG VP Kyle Talente appears before Planning Board Housing & Shelter Committees
As has become the routine with any public meeting remotely concerning housing, the joint meeting of the Planning Board and Housing & Sheltering Committee last week to hear yet another housing study report became an opportunity for citizens to poke and prod in general and -- in particular -- air complaints about the town's biggest bogeyman, student housing.
Originally the $30,000 study, an outgrowth of the now dead Gateway Project (killed by the very same NIMBYs) , was to ascertain the market for non student housing. But as President Kennedy once observed, "A rising tide lifts all boats." And in Amherst, the student housing market is a tsunami.
The usual suspects
According to the consultant, "There's a mismatch between supply and demand. Students price out folks. Until that need is met it will continue to happen." Because student rentals in converted single family homes are oftentimes marketed by the bedroom the combined "buying power" of a typical student household matches that of a family with a household income of $100,000.
Houses coming on the market at a price point of $250,000 are prime meat for ravenous investors who can outbid middle class families. When those houses are all gobbled up and the demand still exists the next price point will be $275,000, then $300,000 and so on.
Between 2000 and 2010 only about 325 new units were added to the housing stock, or about 35 units per year. In that same time frame average rents have risen a whopping 57% -- or twice the rate of inflation. Amherst's official population grew from 34,874 to 37,819 during that time frame.
In a recent Amherst Bulletin column UMass Chancellor Subbaswamy confirms UMass has added 1,000 undergrads since 2009 and will add another 2,000 before the end of the decade.
Umass houses 60% of their total students on campus and plans to maintain that ratio in the future; so that means 400 of the most recently added 1,000 students found housing off campus, and over the rest of the decade 800 more will be looking for shelter.
The mistake in the draft report pounced on by John Fox in particular concerns the impact of the spiffy new Commonwealth College facility at UMass, which has about 3,000 students. But the report seems to treat those students as new additional students increasing the overall population of UMass, when in fact they are already here and have already been counted.
In September the 1,500 bed dorms for Commonwealth College students came online. Some in the audience insist that was enough to satisfy student housing demands, even though it shelters only 50% of the targeted clientele.
The snippet of the report that seems to have drawn the most fire
Neighbors also pointed out the report does not discuss current student oriented projects under way: Olympia Place (236 beds) and Kendrick Place (102 beds) have both been approved by the Planning Board, but neither has broken ground.
Interestingly they didn't throw in The Retreat which is projected to provide 641 student beds because they probably do not wish to jinx their concerted effort to kill that project.
RKG Associates provided all sorts of remedies we can take or leave to stimulate housing production. But to deny that Amherst even has a housing problem is like denying men have walked on the moon.
The first step is to admit there's a problem. "Houston we've had a problem."
And that problem is us.
Amherst will become a Jekyll and Hyde: Student slums and high end "upper crust" neighborhoods
Vince O'Connor: Keep politics out of this report (Amherst needs affordable housing NOT student housing)