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Amherst TM OKs housing trust, also votes against drones

AMHERST — Reversing a vote it took more than five years ago, Town Meeting on Monday agreed to create a municipal affordable housing trust that could provide money for preserving and producing housing for low- and moderate-income families.

At the seventh session of annual Town Meeting, the legislative body also adopted a resolution aimed at providing constitutional protections from drones, or unmanned aircraft, flying over private airspace and requesting that congressional representatives introduce legislation to force the Obama administration to stop using drones to kill American citizens without a public judicial process.

The trust was established by majority voice vote following about 45 minutes of discussion.

Greg Stutsman, co-chairman of the Housing and Sheltering Committee, said the trust will be a vital tool for providing affordable housing to the broadest spectrum of the community.

The trust, will streamline the public funding process, support construction of affordable housing and be an advocate for new affordable housing, Stutsman added. Its funding will come from the Community Preservation Act account, various payments by developers through zoning regulations and private donations.

The seven members will be appointed by the Select Board, including one of its members, one from the housing and sheltering committee and five residents with t experience in real estate, finance, affordable housing and banking.

Caroline Murray of Precinct 4, who has worked professionally to ensure that low-income families have a place to live, said that projects often require up-front capital. She observed that had a trust been in place when 64 affordable units at Puffton Village became market rate in 2000, they may have been preserved because the agencies working on maintaining their affordability needed only an additional $200,000 to execute the deal.

Martha Hanner, local action chairwoman for the League of Women Voters, said it believes the trust will aid in creating and preserving affordable housing. “We see that a major advantage would be that of flexibility,” Hanner said.

A motion by James Oldham of Precinct 5 to refer the concept of the trust back to the Housing and Sheltering Committee for more fine-tuning was defeated by voice vote. Oldham said he supports affordable housing, but is worried about an appointed committee receiving and spending money and lacking accountability to Town Meeting. “This committee comes with a lot of power and not a lot of oversight,” Oldham said.

Mary Wentworth of Precinct 5 said she wanted elected, rather than appointed, members for the trust.

“I think this is an idea, a proposal, that is more suitable to a larger municipality, like a city,” Wentworth said. “I think it’s too high-powered for a town like Amherst.”

Drones article

In the first part of the article regulating drones, Town Meeting affirmed the rights of residents to control the airspace over their homes.

Frank Gatti of Precinct 8, the petitioner, said the article is a way to make sure town officials understand that residents want to protect constitutional rights. “It’s a statement from us about our concern,” Gatti said.

Isaac BenEzra of Precinct 8 said he worries about giving more control to government. “Do we need more vehicles to spy on Americans?” BenEzra said.

But Walter Wolnik of Precinct 5 said he is opposed to the entire article because drones can have positive applications, such as monitoring activities such as the annual “Blarney Blowout.”

Baer Tierkel of Precinct 4 said that the article might stifle innovation and the positive purposes of drones, such as search-and-rescue efforts. “I don’t think we need to send a signal that drones are bad,” Tierkel said.

The second part of the article asks Amherst’s representatives at the federal level, including U.S. Rep. James McGovern and Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey, to introduce legislation to end the practice of using drones to kill people overseas.

Gatti said the point is to stop so-called extrajudicial killings that have occurred during the Obama administration.

Both sections of the article were adopted by majority voice votes.

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