Town Manager Paul Bockelman signed a Purchase and Sale Agreement to acquire 457 Main Street, formerly the site of the Amherst Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), for the purposes of developing a shelter for the unhoused, providing space for supportive/transitional housing and services, and building affordable housing with some directed toward veterans.
“This is a unique opportunity to establish a permanent space to provide shelter and deliver services to those members of our community who are unhoused and most at-risk,” said Town Manager Paul Bockelman. The Town Council established a goal for the Town Manager to ensure a permanent seasonal or year-round shelter. “The Town has a moral duty to provide humane shelter for those at-risk. This parcel provides the ability to address these needs,” added Bockelman.
"The Board of Directors and staff of Craig's Doors would like to express our excitement about this project. We also want to thank Paul Bockelman and Dave Ziomek for their dogged pursuit of this goal, which has been a dream of every Executive Director and Board of Craig’s Doors for many years. That we can partner with the Town to provide a permanent shelter as well as affordable housing for our guests and others in need of housing, fills us with delight. While we will be forever grateful to the houses of worship - First Baptist Church, the Unitarian Universalist Society, and Immanuel Lutheran Church - for providing us with true sanctuary for the past 13 years, this project will make our work much easier, more cost effective, and will allow our guests the guarantee of 24-hour shelter as well as an easier path toward permanent housing." said Gerry Weiss, President, and Timothy McCarthy, Executive Director, of Craig's Doors.
For more than a decade the Town has worked with Craig’s Doors –a local non-profit - to provide shelter to unhoused residents of Amherst. During that time, Craig’s Doors operated at various locations such as church basements and assembly spaces as well as renting rooms at the University Motor Lodge. While the community has been fortunate to have Craig’s Doors as a provider and to have faith-based organizations willing to offer space for congregate sheltering, a permanent space that could provide humane accommodations and supportive services has always been the goal.
In 2021 the Town Manager designated $1 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to support the establishment of a permanent shelter to meet the needs of the unhoused. The Town Manager directed staff to begin looking for locations for a permanent shelter that was adequately sized, properly zoned, and in an accessible location.
Town staff, led by Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek and Building Commissioner Rob Morra, identified the former location of the VFW at 457 Main Street as a suitable site and unique opportunity. The property was close to the downtown area, was walkable/bikeable to local stores and social services, was located on bus routes, and provided nearly an acre of buildable land for the intended purposes.
Town staff met with and gained the support of the VFW. With the agreement of the VFW, the Town quickly began a period of due diligence completing an appraisal, informal site analysis, and working with the Town attorney on related legal matters.
After negotiations, the Town Manager signed a Purchase and Sale agreement in early November for $775,000. This figure is based on the appraised value of the land. It should be noted that the existing building has no value; it is in poor condition and will need to be demolished. If all goes well, a closing will happen in January 2023.
David Ziomek, Assistant Town Manager, emphasized, “It is important to state that this is the beginning of a long and complex process to build a permanent shelter in Amherst. Developing a shelter, supportive/transitional housing, and other services will take time and numerous partnerships with local, regional, and state organizations. Securing funding for such a building project will also be a substantial undertaking. The Town’s goal is to acquire the site and partner with a developer and service providers who share our vision for the project. My staff and I look forward to this important work.”
A presentation on the acquisition will be available in the Town Council packet for Monday, December 5th, once posted, at www.amherstma.gov/towncouncil