PORTLAND — With the Housing Trust Fund nearly doubled in value, the City Council Housing Committee has endorsed a $1.96 million budget for housing programs.
On Feb. 28, the budget, prepared by the city Housing and Community Development Division, was reviewed and unanimously recommended for full City Council passage by the Housing Committee, led by Councilor Jill Duson.
The $913,000 now on hand in the Housing Trust Fund is the largest single component of the budget that is also comprised of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funding and income from varied existing funds.
In a Feb. 23 memo to councilors, city Housing and Community Development Division Director Mary Davis noted the federal funding has not been allocated, so the budget uses a placeholder amount of the current $825,000, which is actually split between the city and the rest of Cumberland County.
The city administers the funding, and $319,000 is reserved for county projects, Davis said.
On Monday, Duson welcomed the infusion of cash from the city Housing Trust Fund, even as the balance has not been allocated for any particular purpose yet. The balance allocated to the current program budget is $468,500.
A memo Feb. 23 memo from city Housing Program Manager Victoria Volent shows the balance increase available for the new budget is driven largely by $280,000 contributed by the developers of new housing on the upper floors at 443 Congress St.
The money is in lieu of creating housing units specifically targeted to people earning 100 percent to 120 percent of the area median income, as specified in the city’s inclusionary zoning ordinance.
The Housing Trust Fund was also bolstered in 2017 by $165,000 in land sales on Peaks Island and Belfort Street in Riverton.
The fund has been used to assist some affordable housing work in the city, including the Oak Street lofts built in 2011 by Avesta Housing, and the development on a former parking lot at 65 Munjoy St.
Duson said she wants the Housing Committee to clarify its priorities on using the money, whether for specific planned projects or by taking a wider scope.
“I’d like to see us add some incentives for creativity, for getting more resources involved,” she said, adding she was not yet certain what that might entail.
The inclusionary zoning ordinance passed in 2015 requires 10 percent of units in developments of 10 or more to be set aside as affordable housing unless developers pay a fee of $100,000 per affected unit.
A Feb. 9 memo to the city Planning Board from Development Review Services Manager Barbara Barhydt lists five housing development projects planned or under construction that would add $1.26 million to the fund. The in-lieu fees are paid only after the certificate of occupancy is granted.
Mayor Ethan Strimling has advocated doubling the requirement to 20 percent of units, reducing the income guidelines, shifting the median income guidelines from a measurement of the Portland area to specifically in the city, and increasing the in-lieu payment for each unit by $2,500.
City staff and Strimling support eliminating the six-year sunset clause for the inclusionary zoning. His and other staff recommendations on the ordinance were discussed at a Feb. 13 Planning Board workshop, but no changes have been forwarded to city councilors.
Within the entire housing program budget, $137,000 will be allocated for tenant-based rental assistance to help prevent evictions; $100,000 for housing rehabilitation work; and $325,000 for affordable housing development efforts.
Rental assistance is a $7,000 increase from the current budget, which Duson says reflects the strongest need. Funding for housing rehabilitation, which are loans for people facing dire housing repairs they cannot afford, is reduced by $41,000.
Duson said she hopes the city can help improve access to that loan fund, as it is not widely known about. Although the loans can be forgiven after 10 years if the homeowner does not sell, she said it is a good way to preserve ownership and the city’s housing stock.