A couple of recent housing studies published on Amherst.gov—a housing production plan and a housing market study —that demonstrate that Amherst is going through some growing pains, which are having an adverse affect on the ability of key demographics to afford a home in town.
In a letter from Town Manager John Musante to Town Meeting members, he explains that the purpose of the housing production plan was to address Amherst’s affordable housing needs, while the housing market study addressed the student and non-student housing market and zoning issues.
In the executive summary of the housing production plan, which was written by Karen Sunnarborg Consulting and Abacus Architects and Planners in coordination with Amherst’s Housing and Sheltering Committee, the authors state that the housing supply has not kept up with demand. As is a basic principle of economics, this has caused home prices to increase.
“While the housing population grew by 24,101 residents or 176% between 1960 and 2010, housing during this same period increased by only 5,624 units or 125%,” the report states.
The report warns that this could lead to Amherst becoming, “a community that is largely comprised of students and seniors, losing important social and economic vitality in the decades ahead.”
In the executive summary of a technical memorandum regarding an Amherst real estate market study to Amherst Town Planner Jonathan Tucker, RKG Associates explains that four students pooling their money together can afford to pay more for home than the average western Massachusetts family.
“As a result, those households with the highest incomes that seek to live in Amherst are the ones most likely to find opportunities,” the RKG Associates technical memorandum reads. “This challenge is exacerbated by the fact that Amherst has substantially limited new residential development―particularly for small single-family (i.e. townhouses) and multi-family (both ownership and rental) housing.”
RKG Associates also states that a relaxed policy regarding four un-related individuals that can live together, which is likely a violation of fair housing law, will probably result in any housing development below the higher end being occupied by students. This prices younger and family-oriented households out of the Amherst real estate market, the executive summary states.
To address the need for more affordable housing, the housing production plan recommends that the town arrive at a plan to increase the inventory of affordable homes by working with UMass, private developers, and citizen “willingness to accept new developments and higher densities.” The production plan also cites different ways to do this.
Last year, Amherst Town Meeting rejected two proposals to adopt a form-based code that would have done just that. One of the reasons cited then was because this housing study was not completed. This year, however, Town Meeting voted in favor of a number of zoning changes that will increase density in certain areas.
The Amherst Bulletin reported that Town Meeting voted in favor of changes that allow for the potential for more residential units in the upper floors of mixed-use buildings by changing the way maximum heights are calculated; that promote pedestrian-style “streetscapes” and prevent strip mall style development by requiring mixed-use building expansions to be built toward the street; and that allow for denser development in village centers and general business areas.
However, the Amherst Bulletin also reported that Town Meeting rejected a proposed zone change that would have reduced, “the dimensional requirements for housing projects in limited business, commercial, village center business and general business zoning districts.” It was reported that this was largely due to worries that it would lead to an increase in student housing in the North Amherst Village section of town.
A public forum will be held on June 18 at 7:00 pm in the Amherst Town Room at Town Hall regarding the housing market study by RKG Associates.
If you are planning on buying or selling a home in Amherst or the surrounding communities, make your first call to Michael Seward at 413-531-7129.
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