Low-Income Housing Error at Presidential Apartments

By Kathrine Esten

(Laurie Sexton/ Daily Collegian)

Amherst Presidential Village, a popular off-campus housing site for college students, is trying to find tenants willing to move out in order to free up six units that were supposed to have been available to lower-income tenants on Sept. 1.

While a lottery was held for the six apartments on Aug. 11, and were awarded to applicants, the designated units were rented to other tenants.

According to MassLive, Allen Cohn, manager of Amherst Presidential Village LLC, did not expect the tenants for the designated affordable units to be certified in time, and rented the units to other tenants. After the error was realized, Amherst Building Commissioner Robert Morra informed Cohn that he has until Oct. 18 to make the units available or he will face fines of $100 a day per unit as long as the property is in violation of town housing policy.

In an effort to rectify the situation, property manager Patrick Kamins, of Kamins Real Estate Property Management, sent a letter to residents offering incentives for relocation.

In the letter, Kamins stated, “We are looking for a few current tenants that would be interested in relocating. For your cooperation, we would offer a payment incentive from us, for moving before your lease expires. In addition, we will offer our assistance, at no charge, in locating a new apartment for you, with no fees or penalties for terminating your lease early.”

The offer was clarified to be a “one-time offer,” and urged residents to “act quickly.”

Smriti Karwa, a senior communication disorder student at the University of Massachusetts, said “at first I was just confused and I sort of disregarded [the letter]. But then my roommate recently got a voicemail from Kamins following up on the letter and asking us if we could terminate our lease, so then then I realized how bizarre and unfair it was.”

“Affordable housing is so important, but I’m not going to move out just like that after investing all this money and time in my home, especially in the middle of the semester,” Karwa said.

Kamins Real Estate Property Management reaffirmed their dedication to meeting town policies and said they “will work with any residents, whether students or families, to look for long term solutions in new housing.”

“The Zoning Board of Appeals granted a special permit in 2013 for Presidential Apartments to add 54 units to the 85 unit-comped, stipulating that six units must be set aside for tenants earning a maximum of 80 percent of the area median income,” according to the MassLive article.

In the initial response to the issue, Select Board Chairman Doug Slaughter wrote that the board “expressed its anger, frustration, and disappointment regarding the situation at Presidential Apartments,” as noted by Diane Lederman, in her article for MassLive.

“Given the efforts necessary to acquire their Special Permit, to have failed to meet the requirements of that permit is inexcusable,” Slaughter said to MassLive. “More importantly, the failure to provide these affordable units has left families on the economic margins from remaining in or joining our community. This runs counter the value that Amherst places on these families and Affordable Housing in general.”

In the Amherst Bulletin on July 13, the initial lottery for affordable housing was described. “Families seeking affordable housing in Amherst can apply to live in apartments with rents below fair market…For one bedroom, the rent would be $824 per month for heat and hot water, about $250 less per month than market rate apartments. For two bedroom rent would be $1,016 for heat and hot water, approximately $500 less per month, and for the three bedroom units, with just hot water, $1,142, or about $800 less per month.”

In a more recent interview with The Amherst Bulletin, Cohn said he pledges to offer the affordable apartments to qualified residents as soon as possible, but can’t do so immediately, barring unforeseen departures of current tenants. He added that he may have grounds to appeal any fines stemming on the timing of the lottery.

Town Manager Paul Bockelman was quoted in the same article saying the matter is about protecting what should be part of the town’s subsidized housing inventory. The state requires communities to have at least 10 percent affordable housing.

“We will take all legal steps and other steps we need to rectify the situation as soon as possible,” Bockelman said to the Amherst Bulletin.

Katherine Esten can be reached at [email protected]