New affordable housing in Portland has veterans in mind

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PORTLAND — Tom Ptacek did not see it coming.

“I’m pretty sure this would be at the top of the list of things I said were never going to happen,” Ptacek said Tuesday about an Avesta Housing apartment building named in his honor.

Yet on Wednesday, June 29, Mayor Ethan Strimling and Avesta officials will celebrate the grand opening of Thomas Heights at 134 Washington Ave.

The 18-unit, four-story building with views overlooking the peninsula and Bayside was not specifically built to house military veterans like Ptacek, but they were in mind as potential occupants.

“We made special outreach to vulnerable veterans,” Avesta Housing Development Officer Greg Payne said June 23.

Ptacek, who served in the U.S. Navy in the Gulf War era, was humbled to have the apartment building named in his honor.

“It is really, really great, considering what I went through being homeless and doing advocacy work,” he said Tuesday. “It’s really validating.”

Ptacek, who was homeless for more than a year and a half, said veterans can present unique circumstances.

“When you have gone through the military, you kind of feel like, ‘Well, I really should be more prepared than other people, that I should be more capable of getting through tough times,’ so it makes it a little harder to ask for help,” he said.

Thomas Heights was built on the site of a former single-family home, at a cost of $3.6 million. It received a tax-increment finance zone by the city council about two years ago.

The TIF will allow Avesta to recapture more than $200,000 in increased property taxes to offset operating costs.

Five of the 18 residents are veterans, nine had been homeless, and all are in a lower income bracket that remains underserved, Payne said.

Rents at Thomas Heights range from $544 to $675 per month, which includes utilities. Tenants must earn between 40-50 percent of the area median income and no more than $25,500 annually.

“This is one of the few places they could afford,” Payne said.

In January, residents began moving in; there are 105 people on the waiting list, Payne said.

Resident Services Coordinator Jessica Goodell says space will be available for residents to get other needed services from local agencies.

“This is a definitely a positive atmosphere; we try to do whatever we can to support people,” she said.

Avesta Housing properties at 409 Cumberland Ave. and Pearl Place were also placed in TIFs, and a planned development at 17 Carleton St. will also recapture TIF funds. But Payne said Thomas Heights most resembles the Oak Street Lofts at 72 Oak St., for the intent to provide housing for an underserved segment of the population.

Oak Street Lofts was constructed with the city’s arts community in mind, Payne said.

Avesta funded the construction with the help of the Maine State Housing Authority, the Portland Housing Trust Fund, Washington, D.C. -based affordable housing agency NeighborWorks America, and low-income housing tax credits used to attract private investors.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Avesta Housing Development Officer Greg Payne, outside Thomas Heights June 22, said the 18 studio units fill a niche for low-income city residents.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.