Portland council approves tax breaks for affordable housing

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PORTLAND — It took two meetings in one night to clear out City Council business Monday.

Part of the result was more municipal support for affordable housing. Councilors also set dates for hearings and votes on two potential changes to the City Charter.

In holding both July meetings on one night, councilors met for about three hours, focusing largely on details about land sales in Bayside made last fall.

In the first meeting, councilors approved a change in the purchase and sales agreement with Ross Furman for land at 178 Kennebec St. he bought from the city last fall to allow planned housing to be marketed to tenants ages 55 and older.

The change allows developers to better capture Maine State Housing Authority  Low Income Housing Tax Credits that are passed on from the IRS. Councilor Kim Cook opposed the amendment that passed by a 7-1 vote.

“I understand the state has prioritized 55 plus this year, but I don’t think it should drive our decisions about Bayside,” Cook said.

In the second meeting, the project was given its own tax increment finance zone and a 30-year credit enhancement agreement that could return $96,000 annually of increased assessments to developers.

Of the 51 units planned, 40 will be available to people earning 50-60 percent of the area median income.

Councilors also authorized City Manager Jon Jennings to sign a credit enhancement agreement with 100 Parris Street LP, which bought a parking lot from the city and plans to build 23 condominiums on the site.

A third credit enhancement agreement with Avesta Housing for development of senior housing at 977 Brighton Ave. was approved, along with the creation of a tax increment finance zone. 

Within the 40 planned one-bedroom units, 34 will be available to people earning 50-60 percent of the area median income. The 30-year credit enhancement agreement would return an average of $65,000 in increased valuations to Avesta.

Councilors Pious Ali and Belinda Ray have brought forth two proposed charter changes that will be open to public comment when the council next meets at 4 p.m. Aug. 13.

Ali’s proposal would extend the vote in municipal elections to all legal immigrants at least 18 years old. The change would not allow legal immigrants to run for office.

Extending the local vote to legal immigrants has also been one of Mayor Ethan Strimling’s goals.

The qualifying city residents would not have to be U.S. citizens in order to vote. 

Ray’s proposal would require candidates for all municipal offices to submit campaign finance reports 42 days before the election date. Present rules require initial filings in July, followed by reporting 11 days before the election.

In the second meeting Monday, councilors had first readings of the orders, setting up votes for them on Aug. 13. 

Both charter changes would require voter approval and could be placed on the Nov. 6 ballot.

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

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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.