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Amherst pursues federal grant for Echo Village buy

Town Manager John Musante told the Select Board Monday that he is endorsing recommendations from the Community Development Block Grant Advisory Committee to apply for $800,000 in funding for projects that assist low- and moderate-income residents.

Three-quarters of the application would support the acquisition of Echo Village, with $125,000 aimed at various social service needs and $75,000 to cover the town’s administrative costs.

The application will be submitted to the competitive grant program Friday.

“My thinking, quite simply, is I am endorsing, I’m in agreement with, the recommendations that the CDBG Advisory Committee has made to me for funding for 2014,” Musante said.

Unlike in previous years, when the town was a mini-entitlement community and guaranteed to receive $900,000 to $1 million, there is no assurance the state will provide this funding. Last year, the town obtained $450,000 because it was considered a transition community. Amherst officials should learn in June if they will receive this money.

The $600,000 from CDBG would assist a third party to buy and manage Echo Village Apartments, Musante said.

“That would be coupled with other public and private dollars from other sources,” Musante said.

This would include $750,000 requested from the town’s Community Preservation Act account.

The complex was home to 19 families with federal Section 8 vouchers until the $3 million sale early last year from Gatehouse Road Realty LLC, managed by Jerald Gates, to Echo Gatehouse Partners LLC, managed by Jamie Cherewatti. Most of those families were forced to find homes elsewhere over the past year.

Musante and Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek say they have talked with Cherewatti and he has said he’s willing to cooperate with the town through this process.

Musante said it has been clear through this CDBG process that affordable housing and preserving the affordable units at Echo Village, as well as at Rolling Green Apartments at 422 Belchertown Road, has support from the community.

“That’s certainly no surprise to the Select Board,” Musante said.

The CDBG Committee estimates that the money could preserve at least 65 affordable units of housing and that around 150 residents would benefit directly.

On social service spending, Musante said he agrees that this should be directed toward emergency funds and preventive services to homeless and low-income residents.

The $125,000 being requested is broken into three categories, with $20,000 for emergency funds, which would go to fuel assistance and other basic needs, $35,000 for the food pantry at the Amherst Survival Center, and $70,000 for the Craig’s Doors emergency homeless shelter.

Even if this comes through, Select Board member Alisa Brewer said the shelter operator will need to do more fundraising, as it made a $90,500 request.

Musante said the CDBG Advisory Committee did an excellent job developing a community development strategy and evaluating projects. He said its staff liaison, Associate Planner Nathaniel Malloy, will submit a comprehensive application to the state.

Jana McClure, co-chairwoman of the committee, said members of the committee would like to have more capital projects come forward in future years so that they can review more options for spending.

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