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Debate over incentives for senior housing

The Amherst Industrial Development Agency’s moratorium on new senior housing projects, effective last week through the end of the year, is already sparking some discussion in the real estate and economic development community.

The agency had imposed the moratorium to allow time for more study of whether additional senior housing is needed, and whether the agency should be encouraging it through tax breaks.

Michael Bartlett, executive director of the Hamburg IDA, said his agency has also provided such assistance for senior housing in the past, but “always required a market study to justify the need” for more.

“While we don't have a moratorium in place and there have been no conversations regarding one, I don't envision another senior housing project coming before the HIDA Board and being approved,” he said by email. “I expect to keep in touch with (Amherst IDA Executive Director) Jim Allen and discuss their actions with our board.”

By contrast, Mark E. Hamister, president of Hamister Group, called the moratorium “a mistake,” but said his firm does “understand and respect that all IDAs should review policy and intentions of those policies from time to time.”

Still, “we have an aging community and need to make sure that services and facilities are built and maintained to take care of that aging community,” he said.

He noted that seniors on fixed income have limited financial capability, which changes “the dynamics of what can be built at what cost.” And the services that seniors now expect don’t come cheap, making it important for IDAs to provide such incentives to enable facilities to exist.

“Seniors who helped build our communities in my humble opinion should have the opportunity to retire and live their last years in this wonderful community with as much comfort and as many services/benefits as possible,” he said. “Today’s seniors paid taxes for a lifetime --- this is about giving back.”

- Jonathan D. Epstein

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