Increase Housing Stock
As Amherst's population grows in tandem with increasing enrollment at the colleges, housing has not kept pace. Despite new high profile housing developments in Amherst Center, available housing units are insufficient to meet housing demand. The result is an unsustainable real estate market. Vacancy rates are less than one percent, making housing difficult to find. And with demand outstripping supply, rents in Amherst are higher than in neighboring communities and rise regularly. The result is that low and moderate income folks are pushed out of Amherst to the detriment of the town. High housing costs mean fewer young families are settling in Amherst, impacting enrollment in Amherst's schools. And strong demand for rental housing puts pressure on single family homes. Residents in Amherst are watching the character of their neighborhoods change as owner-occupied homes are increasingly converted into rental properties.
To bring down rents and reduce the incentives for rental conversions, Amherst must increase its rental housing stock. This means examining current zoning bylaws to remove constraints on development density and multi-family housing , bringing down regulatory barriers that hold back housing production, and investigating innovative approaches to generate new rental housing. But this all must be done with consideration of the character of the town, environmental sustainability, and balancing student and non-student rental housing.
Housing production must also meet the need for affordable housing. Amherst maintains an inclusionary zoning bylaw to mandate affordable housing units in some new developments, and has pioneered an affordable housing property tax incentive to encourage development of affordable housing (see North Square at The Mill District for this tax incentive in action). The Council must continue to implement these tools and work to improve them over time to ensure they live up to their original intents. Town Council must also support the Amherst Affordable Housing Trust in their efforts to secure affordable housing units and prevent homelessness.