Officials and residents celebrate North Square development in Amherst’s Mill District

AMHERST – Aschleigh Jensen moved to North Square in December 2019, just before the pandemic disrupted daily life. The new mixed-use residential and commercial development in the Mill district of Amherst offers low-rental housing, where Jensen lives.

“I have a really reduced rent,” she said. “It is quite a blessing.”

The low income apartments allowed Jensen and his mother to stay in the Amherst area as it was the only affordable housing they could find.

“If we hadn’t found this place, we should have gone far enough,” she said. “We were looking in Springfield and Holyoke.”

Jensen contracted COVID-19 in January, which makes her even more grateful to have an affordable place to live. “If I had had COVID and unstable housing it would have been ten times worse,” she said.

While the 130 apartments in North Square have been more than 90% occupied since the spring, Governor Charlie Baker attended a groundbreaking ceremony on Wednesday to celebrate the completion of the development.

“Our goal is to create a thriving community,” said Tony Maroulis, vice president of real estate and community development at WD Cowls Inc., who owns the land and helped develop the property.

In addition to the apartments, the $ 47.5 million project includes 22,000 square feet of retail space and 299 parking spaces. The authorities inaugurated the project in 2018.

The development also aims to provide low income housing to the community of Amherst. Of the 130 apartments, 18 are for individuals and families earning up to about 50% of the region’s median income and eight are for families or individuals earning no more than 30% of the median income, or about $ 12 an hour. There are currently around 270 people living in North Square.

At the ceremony, Baker spoke about the importance of implementing low-income housing in Massachusetts.

“We have one of the lowest relative white-to-white home ownership participation rates of any place you’ll find in America,” Baker said. “What could we call ourselves the great progressive and fair state we’re talking about with numbers like this?” ”

The project benefits from the Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program, which provides a tax incentive for the development of affordable housing.

“Tax credits are one of the main drivers of financing that make affordable housing possible,” said Darcy Jameson, vice president of development at Beacon Communities, which developed the property.

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, City Manager Paul Bockelman, Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy and City Council Chair Lynn Griesemer also attended the ceremony.

The initiative was a collaboration between the Town of Amherst, real estate company Beacon Communities and WD Cowls. It was funded with a combination of local, state, and federal funds, including a grant from the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development.

“This was truly a public-private partnership with the city taking the initiative to develop a master plan for North Amherst,” said Jameson.

The North Square retail space is also gradually filling up. Hannah’s general store and local art gallery officially opened this week, and Balanced Birch, a Pilates studio, is slated to open in the fall.

Beacon Communities expects to see more commercial space rented as COVID-19 cases continue to decline, according to the company.

“I think the future is bright,” said Maroulis.

According to Rob Sadler, a resident of North Square, there is also a community of students who live in the apartments.

“A lot of people in the surrounding areas kind of frown on college students and say, do you know what you’re getting yourself into by moving to Amherst? “But I love it, it’s a breath of fresh air, they’re all so respectful,” Sadler said.

The apartments also have durable features, including an efficient air conditioning system, water-saving appliances and Energy Star appliances.

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