Falmouth gets Habitat for Humanity proposal for 25 affordable homes

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FALMOUTH — Affordable housing in town took another step forward at Monday night’s Town Council meeting, when Habitat for Humanity presented a 25-house proposal.

No action was taken by the council, though councilors expressed interest in moving the project forward.

Godfrey Wood, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Portland, originally came before the Council on Jan. 12 to discuss the project, which will be on nearly 20 acres of town-owned land abutting the police station off Woods Road.

The land Habitat is eyeing would be donated by the town, and will produce future property tax income. Wood said Habitat would establish a homeowners association and would be responsible for landscape maintenance. The town would be responsible for maintaining the road and sewer system.

Wood, a Falmouth resident who is married to Karen Wood, publisher of The Forecaster, said nearly 13 acres of the parcel would be preserved as permanent open space, meaning only about seven acres would be developed. Habitat was previously interested in the same parcel in 2009 for a 48-unit development.

Wood said the homes would have 100 percent financing for middle-income families. They would be available for families with incomes of up to $43,200 for a single individual, or $61,700 for a family of four.

“In 2014 the average sale price was $440,000 for a house in Falmouth, and the average listing was over $500,000,” Wood said. “This diminishes the chances for families to stay. Police officers, firefighters and nurses can’t afford it.”

Each of the 25 homes will be approximately 1,300 square feet with three to four bedrooms and 1 1/2 or two bathrooms. Wood said 15 of the homes would be “Habitat for Humanity program homes,” which are built by families, volunteers and the organization’s construction team, and are funded through grants, donations and discounted materials.

The rest of the homes will be “Community Builder homes,” which are built by Habitat’s construction workers and subcontractors, not by volunteers or through donations.

Wood said each homeowner would get a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage from a community bank, and Habitat is in discussions with Bath Savings and Gorham Savings. He said a family making $35,000 would have a total monthly payment of $875.

Nathan Szanton, principal of the Portland-based Szanton Co., also met with the council and town staff on Jan. 12 to discuss affordable mixed-use rental housing in the Route 1 area.

Szanton on Tuesday said his company is “engaged in talks with possible owners of property” that could be used for affordable housing, but those are “low-level, background discussions.”

“I know (Town Manager) Nathan Poore and (Director of Long Range Planning) Theo Holtwijk are continuing to view affordable housing and diverse mix of uses for Falmouth,” Szanton said. “I think they would do anything they could to help facilitate mixed-income housing in downtown Falmouth, but we would need a land owner to step forward and offer to do a transaction to make that happen because we don’t have any land in Falmouth.”

Szanton said his company is working on major projects in Biddeford and Bath, which are occupying the company’s time. In Biddeford, Szanton is within two months of beginning construction to convert a historic mill into an 80 units of mixed-income housing. In Bath, the Szanton Co. plans to convert a World War II-era elementary school into 55 apartments.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.