Portland councilors consider funding, tax breaks for housing projects

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PORTLAND — With more than $1 million to disburse, city councilors and staff are evaluating affordable housing proposals to get federal funding and possible tax incentives.

The City Council Housing Committee, led by Councilor Jill Duson, met May 23 to review four applications seeking at least a share of the $1.08 million in HOME Investment Partnerships Program allocated to the city this year by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

On June 5, the Housing Committee and Economic Development Committee, led by Councilor Justin Costa, will hold a joint meeting to also discuss potential TIF financing for two projects. In that meeting, councilors expect to make recommendations for HOME and TIF funding to the full City Council, based on staff recommendations.

There are four applications for consideration. Two are from Avesta Housing, for Deering Place, at 61 Deering Ave., and proposed housing for renters at least 55 years old at 977 Brighton Ave.

Applications were also made by the Portland Housing Authority to renovate and expand housing on Front Street in East Deering, and by the Maine Workforce Housing for new housing at 178 Kennebec St.

The total amount of funding requests exceeds $1.7 million. 

A May 18 memo from Mary Davis, city Housing & Community Development Division director, noted the city actually received $168,000 more than expected in HOME funds when the application process opened March 30.

Developers had until April 30 to submit applications. Avesta is seeking $200,000 for Deering Place and $300,000 for 977 Brighton Ave.

Maine Workforce Housing is seeking $400,000 in HOME funds for housing built on land it bought from the city in Bayside last fall. Portland Housing is seeking more than $840,000 for its Front Street expansion.

TIFs, with accompanying 30-year credit enhancement agreements that would return 75 percent of increased property valuations to developers, are being sought at 977 Brighton Ave. and 178 Kennebec St.

Over the life of the agreements, developers would see a return of $2.8 million at 978 Kennebec St., and nearly $2 million at 977 Brighton Ave.

At Deering Place, which essentially wraps around the block of Cumberland, Mellen and Deering streets, the city has already committed $300,000 in prior HOME allocations and granted a TIF with a 30-year credit enhancement agreement worth $4.4 million. The funds will help Avesta construct a mix of 75 apartments spread through an existing office building on Cumberland Avenue and new construction at 61 Deering St.

The project has also received an annual $800,000 low income housing tax credit from the Maine State Housing Authority, funding that lasts 10 years and helps lure investors.

Thirty units would be rented at market rates, all them either efficiencies or one-bedroom. The remainder, including 13 three-bedroom units, would be rented to tenants earning no more than 50 percent of the area median income.

Avesta expects construction to begin in April 2019 and completed a year later.

The new housing on Brighton Avenue would contain 40 one-bedroom units, with 24 rented to people earning no more than 50 percent of the area median income and 10 rented to people earning no more than 60 percent of that. The remainder would be rented at market rates, with the four story building constructed on  land now containing a house and garages.

Avesta plans to begin construction in May 2019 and complete it a year later.

Housing for renters 55 and older is also planned at 178 Kennebec St. on land bought from the city last year. Within the 46 one-bedroom units, 15 would be marketed to people earning no more than 50 percent of the area median income and 21 rented to people earning no more than 60 percent of that. The remaining 10 would be rented at market rates.

Maine Workforce Housing includes principal Nathan Szanton, who built Walker Place at Congress and Walker streets and is redeveloping the former Huse School in Bath.

Plans call for construction to begin in June 2019 and for the seven-story building to be ready for occupancy a year later.

As the Portland Housing Authority’s Front Street public housing approaches 50 years old, the agency is now looking to add 61 new units to the existing 50, from one to five bedrooms in size. Of those, 23 units would be rented at market rates. All of the market rate units would have one or two bedrooms. 

The 50 existing units will be renovated, and families moved during the project, according to a PHA summary of the project. The agency also plans to seek a TIF and credit enhancement agreement, the details were not yet available to the Housing Committee, but will be ready for the June 5 meeting.

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

The Portland Housing Authority has applied for $840,000 of federal funding to help pay for renovating and expanding its Front Street public housing.

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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.