Thursday, July 10, 2014

Crowd Sourcing Affordable Housing Plan

Crowd attending Planning Board Public Hearing

Amherst Planning Board Chair David Webber told the crowd of about 25 concerned citizens, town officials and housing developers who attended the public hearing at the Bangs Center last night that an Inclusionary Zoning Bylaw to help stimulate low-income housing, "Is worth doing, but we need your help."

 Amherst Planning Board

Ideas ranged from a "payment in lieu" of affordable units into a trust fundto allowing developers to build the required units off-site away from the market rate units, or increasing the density of projects so developers could get more market rate units to offset the affordable ones.

The problems seem greater in the downtown, which is close to built out, and therefore more expensive to develop.   Critics portrayed Kendrick Place,  a mixed-use five story building which just broke ground, as the poster child for special treatment since none of the 36 units will be affordable and the project did require some minor variances from the Planning Board.

One idea floated by PB Chair David Webber is to allow a height increase in the downtown to six floors from the current five.  The crowd seemed receptive to the idea. 

Maurianne Adams also pointed out UMass and the town need to work together to allow public/private partnerships to build new student housing on or near campus that would be plentiful, safe, and pay property taxes.

Making the affordable unit requirement too strict and you end up with nothing because developers walk away, but make it too easy and they walk all over you.  So the Planning Board, like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, needs to find a proper balance that's "just right".

The Planning Board is targeting the Fall Town Meeting for an Inclusionary Zoning Article, with September 26 the deadline for article language.  In addition to the public forums soliciting advice the Planning Board will also hire a consultant to figure out the real world impacts of such an article on mixed use centers.

Amherst housing production has been practically non existent over the past generation, resulting in high rents pushing out middle class families and low income residents, the creation of students slums, and unhealthy discord in our political arena.  


Anonymous said...

So the word I got is that the developers and businesspeople present last night, who could have contributed to the discussion their expertise, experience, know-how, and sense of the possible, said nothing at all!

We need something more than the usual suspects rambling on at these meetings.

Anonymous said...

How many new homes and apartments and condos have been built over the past generation which I take to mean 20 years.

Anonymous said...

Gee, do they still make tents like the one I lived in when I went to Umass....the money I saved on rent financed my first business...oh but that was back when people were expected to figure things out themselves....never-mind, time for a town meeting of everyone who doesn't have to work.

Dr. Ed said...

Would there not be some significant increases to the Fire Dept's budget needs if you go to six stories?

And the creation of yet more ghettos if you permit segregation between market and affordable units, i.e. moving the "affordable" ones "off site"? And isn't segregation also bad?

I always thought that the principle was to have a mixed income development -- to have people of mixed incomes IN THE SAME development.

I wonder if the real solution is to get the state to set a hard cap on the size of the incoming UM freshman class.

Anonymous said...

Virtually nobody at the meeting supported allowing off-site or payment-in-lieu options. Wouldn't be surprised if those are off the table. Reason (besides segregation of the poor) being they postpone construction of the affordable units while allowing market rate to build immediately.

There are already 6 story buildings downtown, so - no, the AFD likely wouldn't need new equipment.

And Anon 10:41 - yes, there were several downtown landowners there who said [nothing]. The usual gadflies did, though.

Anonymous said...

We need less of Jim Oldham and more of Barry Roberts.

Anonymous said...

Yes, it's terrible that citizens like Jim Oldham go to public meetings and give their opinions on issues that they care deeply about. We need more input from people who don't speak. We should pass laws stopping people from speaking and making others speak.

Larry Kelley said...

Sarcasm requires its owns special font.

I do notice Jim Oldham has a habit of using "Point of Order" to try to shut me up when I'm speaking on the floor of Town Meeting.

Anonymous said...

Actually, that is absolutely right:

Amherst needs more input from people who don't speak.

Congratulations, Anon 6:02 pm, you're on it. We can't pass a law for it, but that's exactly what we need....once Jim Oldham is done talking.