With affordable Portland housing scarce, city considers new Munjoy Hill project

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PORTLAND — A proposal to build eight condominiums on a city-owned parking lot at 65 Munjoy St. is likely to be considered at the Feb. 11 meeting of the City Council Housing and Community Development Committee meeting.

Given the report heard by committee members Jan. 14, approving the request for proposal from Adam’s Apple LLC will barely dent the unmet demand for affordable homes to rent or own in the city in the next 15 years.

City Hall spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said the proposal from developers Ethan Boxer-Macomber and Peter Bass will first be reviewed by Planning Department staff, which issued the request last November to specifically provide housing for families earning 100 to 120 percent of the average median income. The incomes range from $61,000 to $92,000, depending on whether it is a family of two or four.

Bass and Macomber submitted the only proposal to develop the 6,800-square-foot parking lot, and plan to build two each of two- and three-bedroom units with the remainder as one-bedroom units to meet the income guidelines.

The developers have asked the city to donate the land because of the anticipated $200,000 cost to remove contaminated soils on a site once used as a garage for vehicles and railroad cars, and to manufacture white lead.

With an estimated project cost of $2.2 million detailed in the proposal, Bass and Macomber are also seeking a $300,000 grant from the city Housing Trust Fund that would close the gap between project costs and the eventual sale prices of the homes.

The 65 Munjoy St. development is adjacent to an Avesta Housing development at the former Adams School. A Greater Portland Council of Governments report commissioned by city councilors last summer suggests those affordable housing efforts are the exception rather than the rule.

“While rising incomes have narrowed the affordability of existing homes and apartments, new construction is well beyond the means of the middle class,” the report concluded, with 29 percent of 1,130 housing units permitted or built since 2010 affordable to people earning the area median income.

The construction includes apartments, condominiums and homes, and the study predicts a growing gap, predicated in part on how much the city population may increase by 2030.

Depending on models used, the gap between demand and availability of affordable housing could reach 33 percent. The crunch may become more pronounced in rental units, because an estimated 81 percent of the city’s renters earned less than the area median income in 2011, according to the study.

However, 41 percent of the 746 rental units created from 2010 to 2014 were marketed at affordable rates, as opposed to 7 percent of the 384 condominiums and single-family homes built in the same period, according to the study.

In a memo prefacing the report, city Planning and Urban Development Director Jeff Levine said there are steps the committee and City Council can consider to narrow the gaps.

They may include increasing “density bonuses,” where developments can add more units if marketed to meet affordable housing needs. The city may also reconsider “inclusionary zoning” that mandates construction of affordable units or payment of a fee in lieu of the mandate to the city Housing Trust Fund.

Inclusionary zoning was mentioned in a draft of the India Street Sustainable Neighborhood Plan, but scrapped from the final report because it could be considered as a citywide ordinance.

Levine also mentioned parking incentives and rent or price controls, but discounted their effectiveness.

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.