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Amherst IDA to create scorecard for senior living

The Amherst Industrial Development Agency is looking to put its own mark on a countywide policy for granting tax breaks to senior housing projects.

The agency is working on a scorecard that would put different weights on each of the nine criteria in the countywide policy, approved last month by the policy committee that governs all of Erie County’s IDAs.

The changes being discussed by the Amherst IDA’s directors would essentially bar senior housing projects that don’t meet the agency’s criteria for creating walkable neighborhoods or bring unique amenities to the community. The revised policy also would effectively bar projects that don’t comply with the town’s master plan.

The agency’s directors also are debating whether the scorecard should be tweaked further to give added weight to a requirement that at least half of the residents in senior housing projects receiving tax breaks must have incomes that are at least 80 percent below the community’s median income.

The revised policy that the agency’s board of directors reviewed on Friday did not weigh the income requirement heavily enough that failing to meet that standard would prevent it from receiving tax breaks. The agency, at the urging of board member Michelle Marconi, is expected to further review the income requirement and could adjust its criteria to essentially bar tax breaks from any project that does not meet the income standard.

“Amherst does not have a lack of market rate housing,” Marconi said. “It has a lack of affordable housing.”

The Amherst IDA’s debate centers around ways to further tighten a policy that was adopted last month by the Erie County IDA, which set nine basic criteria for subsidizing senior housing projects without saying how many of those guidelines must be met to qualify for tax breaks.

“We’re taking it one step further,” said Edward Stachura, the agency’s chairman.

The Erie County policy covers for-profit senior citizen housing projects where at least 90 percent of the units are rented to people who are at least 60 years old. The policy does not cover low-income, subsidized housing projects, which are eligible for incentives under different state laws, upscale senior housing projects or “life care communities.”

The policy favors projects with a significant portion of the population within a 1- to 5-mile radius at or below median income levels, and developments that offer amenities and services that aren’t available at other nearby senior housing. The ability of the developer to finance the project is another factor, as is whether it will be targeted toward – and at least half-occupied by – seniors whose income is at or below 60 to 80 percent of the county median income. The Amherst plan would target seniors at or below 80 percent of the community’s median income.

A project would be regarded more favorably if it has the written backing of local municipal officials and if it is located within the community’s central area and falls within its master plan.

Projects also would be evaluated favorably if they would help create walkable neighborhoods and if an independent market study shows a need within a particular neighborhood or community.

The proposed Amherst plan differs from the county policy by creating a scorecard that gives each of the criteria a different number of points, with 81 points being required to obtain tax breaks. The walkable community component, along with the master plan compliance requirement and the unique services criteria all carry 20 points, so a project that does not meet just one of those standards would not receive enough points to qualify for tax breaks.

After debating the policy, the agency now is reviewing whether to revise that point scale in a way that would change the criteria to require the income standard for any housing project to receive tax breaks.

“We’re not looking to incentivize luxury housing, plain and simple,” said board member Steven Sanders. “If someone is looking to do luxury housing, they can do it without incentives.”