SOUTH PORTLAND — The city may be in the middle of a critical housing shortage, but residents are saying the solution is “Not in My Backyard.”
Residents are concerned about two new developments proposed by the South Portland Housing Development Corporation, the development branch of the city Housing Authority, which may build more than 100 new affordable apartments in the Thornton Heights and Knightville neighborhoods.
During a meeting Tuesday about the Thornton Heights proposal on Sunset Avenue, Michael Hulsey, executive director of the SPHA, told the audience of about 20 that the crisis is at the point where people are getting kicked out of their apartments and living in cars.
Hulsey said there is a dramatic need for both affordable and market rate housing, and his organization is trying to address the shortage. The proposed developments are designed to provide housing to people who need it, and he said more apartments in South Portland should help to bring rents down.
Chris Kessler, founder of the South Portland Tenants Association, said there has definitely been a shortage of affordable rentals over the past few years.
“It is very exciting to potentially have more units in the neighborhoods – bringing in more people, more families and increasing the housing stock, which is basically the No. 1 thing we can be doing to alleviate the housing shortage,” Kessler said.
Kessler said Knightville, in particular, is a great location for new housing.
“There is a lot of accessibility to your everyday services that you need. It is a lot more conducive for people to live there, especially if they don’t have a vehicle. It makes it a more livable community,” Kessler said.
Kessler said the need for affordable housing has been a universal issue voiced by those who contact the association. He also said the issue crosses all political and cultural lines.
However, he added, there has been a lot of initial push back and striking a balance will be a challenge.
The SPHDC plans a two-phase development on the former Martin’s Point property on Ocean Street in Knightville. The first includes a five-story building with commercial or retail space on the first floor, with up to 48 apartments on the floors above. The plans call for two studio apartments, 32 one-bedroom apartments and 14 two-bedroom units, with covered parking in the rear.
The second phase, planned for 2020, includes a four-story building with 28 apartments or condominiums, as well as retail space at ground level.
The South Portland Housing Authority will be hosting an informational meeting on the Knightville project from 5-7 p.m. May 9 at 100 Waterman Dr.
Housing was a hot topic on the Knightville Mill Creek Facebook page, with many arguing both for and against the idea and asking for more answers.
“Is this what South Portland wants for the revitalization of Knightville? An upscale low-income housing project? This wreaks of corrupt politics,” wrote one Facebook user.
Others believe the development would benefit the neighborhood.
“With commercial and retail on the first floor and housing above, I imagine the project will have a tremendous economic impact in the Knightville area,” another user said.
Caroline Hendry, a Knightville resident, brought up her concerns during the May 1 city council meeting.
Hendry said people in the area have put a considerable amount of money into their properties and are worried about property values.
“I don’t like to see a warehouse-like building just to house people,” Hendry said. “While I understand the need … I think we have to be really, really thoughtful about a project of this size.”
Hendry added, “There is nothing in the master plan that calls for building huge housing in our neighborhood.”
The Thornton heights project on 3 acres on Sunset Avenue will include two 14-unit buildings with a mixture of two- and three- bedrooms.
The rents for the apartments would range from $1,400 to $1,500 for a two-bedroom and $1,600 to $1,800 for three-bedroom units, according to Patrizia Bailey, who works as a development consultant with the SPHD.
Residents at Tuesday’s meeting were especially concerned about their property values, traffic and quality of life.
“I think it’s too big, guys,” said Gwen Steuterman, who lives on Mclean Street near the proposed development. “Good luck guys, we’re going to fight.”
“We want to live there and have a good quality of life,” said Cynthia Rubinoff-Myers, a Thornton Heights resident who said residents are sympathetic to the housing shortage. “Our concern is, you are taking all these units and stuffing them into a small neighborhood. This is a very inappropriate, irresponsible place to put so many people”
A rendering of the apartment building being proposed on Sunset Avenue in Thornton Heights.