Letter to the Editor: Progressives in Amherst Must Support Affordable Housing

The following was submitted to the Hampshire Gazette/Amherst Bulletin as a Letter to the Editor. I never saw it online, but I was told it was published in the paper.

Amherst residents who consider themselves progressive need to take a hard look at their local politics which are decidedly conservative and disadvantage working class, poor people, and the very students who fuel Amherst’s economy. The juxtaposition of stated political ideology and practice is exemplified in the fight against development and high-density housing in the town.

As a graduate student, Amherst is my preferred town of residence. However, the rental market in Amherst became prohibitively expensive, and I moved to Northampton and commute. While I still work in Amherst—both at the University, and previously at Captain Video—I am financially prohibited from calling it my home. The trajectory of the housing market will only allow those with six figure salaries, students whose parents have the same, or those lucky enough to have purchased property before this untenable development to call Amherst home. Throughout my conversations with residents and following the Town Council election I see intense resistance to any new high-density housing. Town Meeting repeatedly rejected new development and was unwilling to compromise, as a result, the few notable projects are out of character with the town’s architecture and prohibitively expensive to rent.

Five College students are the economic driving force of Amherst, but they are treated like pariahs. Efforts are made to keep them on campus and out of town—an ideology explicitly at odds with creating a thriving downtown. Weekends in downtown Northampton are filled with tourists; Amherst offers nothing outside of mealtime offerings. Ironically, if residents wanted to keep students out of “their” neighborhood, resistance to new development achieves the opposite; it incentivizes the proliferation of absentee landlords.

Amherst should heed the warning of San Francisco: residents of San Francisco fought against the “New York-ification” of the city by placing intense limits on development. Those policies helped make San Francisco prohibitively expensive to all but the wealthy and it now lacks sufficient workers to fill lower wage jobs.

In the Town Council election, I urge you to vote for real progressive candidates who support affordable housing in lieu of making claims but upholding the NIMBY status quo.

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