Freeport deal with Habitat for Humanity to expand affordable housing

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FREEPORT — Work on eight affordable homes is starting this month after a deal with the town allowed Greater Portland Habitat for Humanity to expedite construction of its largest project ever in Cumberland County.

The deal, part of an ongoing effort to create more affordable housing in Freeport, allows Habitat to delay payments on three South Street lots purchased in 2010, freeing up capital to move forward with construction of the new $1.18 million project on West Street.

The Town Council approved the sale of the 2.5-acre parcel on West Street, near the Downeaster train platform, last December.

Workers have already begun removing trees from the property and will likely begin installing some of the infrastructure within the week, Stephen Bolton, Habitat’s executive director, said.

This project will be Habitat’s largest to date in the county, he said, and possibly its largest ever in Maine.

“We’re looking forward to serving the community with this project and whatever we can do in the future,” Bolton said. “It’s been a great partnership with the town of Freeport.”

Habitat now owes the town $144,000, which it has agreed to pay back when the new homes are sold, Town Planner Donna Larson said. Habitat bought the South Street properties for $104,000 and then needed an additional $44,000 to build a road for the new lots.

The town also partnered with Habitat to apply for a $143,000 Community Development Block Grant that will pay for the bulk of the road construction, Larson said.

The new homes will cost $135,000 for “very low-income” and $175,000 for “low-income” families, Bolton said. They will be two stories, with three bedrooms and have one or 1 1/2 bathrooms.

In June, Habitat completed the three-home affordable housing project at the corner of South and West streets, where land was purchased in 2010.

Freeport now has six homes built by Habitat. The addition of these new homes will make a total of 14.

Larson said this project aligns with the town’s Comprehensive Plan and a state mandate that the town have a larger variety of housing options, with 10 percent in the affordable housing range.

“We’ve just found a good partner in Habitat,” she said.

The goal of the project, Bolton said, is to provide housing for some of Freeport’s low-wage retail workers, many of whom commute from out of town because housing is too expensive.

Two corporations, Lowe’s and Bank of America, have partnered with Habitat to help build the new homes, providing cash and in-kind contributions of $30,000 and $40,000, respectively, Bolton said.

The Portland Board of Realtors also helped with acquiring the properties, Bolton said.

Ironically, Bank of America has one of the highest foreclosure rates of any bank in the nation. In October, federal prosecutors filed a lawsuit against the bank alleging that management carried out a mortgage scheme that defrauded the government during the depths of the financial crisis.

Bolton said Habitat is still looking for potential buyers for the yet-to-be built homes. To qualify a family has to be low income and commit between 250 and 500 hours to help build their homes, what Habitat calls “sweat equity.”

For more information about the projects or to apply for ownership, call Habitat at 772-2151.

Will Graff can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or Follow him on Twitter: @W_C_Graff.