This apartment building at the corner of Valley and C streets would be demolished for a new apartment building proposed by Avesta Housing. (Portland Phoenix/Jordan Bailey)
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Portland will get 146 new affordable apartments if plans and funding are approved for three developments under review by the Planning Board and City Council. 

One project is a seven-story apartment building proposed by the Portland Housing Authority for 337 Cumberland Ave., just west of Preble Street. It would include 48 permanently affordable units ranging from studios to three bedrooms, and 12 market-rate units.

The basement would be used for parking for about 21 cars and its ground floor would be expanded child-care space for Youth and Family Outreach, which now uses the chapel building next door, with a connection between the two buildings. 

The Planning Board is scheduled to discuss the project July 21. 

A rendering by Kaplan Thompson Architects of a multifamily housing, child-care, and community services building proposed at 337 Cumberland Ave. in Portland. (Courtesy City of Portland)

Senior housing would be provided by a Community Housing of Maine proposal to construct a five-story building with 50 units of affordable apartments at 83 Middle St., at the intersection with Franklin Street. It would include 23 studios, 23 one­-bedroom, and four two­-bedroom apartments.

Twenty units would be affordable for households earning 50 percent of the area median income, and 30 units would be affordable to households making 60 percent of the AMI. People experiencing homelessness (so-called “long-term stayers”) will have priority for 11 of the units.  

The Planning Board has not yet scheduled a review of this project. 

The third proposal, from Avesta Housing, is for a five-story, 60-unit project on Valley Street next to Florence House, a women’s shelter run by Preble Street in partnership with Avesta. 

Forty-eight of the units, ranging from studios to three-bedroom apartments, would be designated affordable; 36 units would be affordable to tenants making 50 percent of the area median income and 12 units would be affordable at 60 percent AMI. Twelve one-bedroom units would be market-rate apartments. 

The Planning Board held a remote workshop on this project June 23. Avesta noted the severe need for affordable housing in its application, adding that nearly 1,100 income-eligible households are on the waiting list for about 780 affordable apartments Avesta manages in greater Portland.     

The three projects are applying for funding from the federal Housing and Urban Development HOME Investment Partnerships Program or the city Housing Trust Fund, as well as tax-increment financing. 

HOME is the largest federal block grant program designed to fund affordable housing for low-income families. It requires at least 90 percent of benefiting families must have incomes that are no more than 60 percent of the HUD-adjusted median family income for the area.

A rendering of the affordable housing project for seniors proposed by Community Housing of Maine at 83 Middle St., at the corner of Franklin Street, in Portland. It would have 11 units for “long-term stayers” or people who have experienced homelessness for more than 180 days. (Courtesy City of Portland)

The city’s Housing Trust Fund can also be used to fund affordable housing projects because other funding sources like HOME and Community Development Block Grants are limited in amount and scope. 

Mary Davis, director of Housing and Community Development, told the Housing Committee June 10 that the total HCD funding had nearly $1.6 million available for affordable housing development, and the three proposals requested a total of $1.5 million. The committee recommended all three projects receive funding. 

According to city documents on the HOME Program and Housing Trust Fund, the city prioritizes mixed-income developments that include both affordable and market-rate units. Projects receiving HOME funding in Portland must retain affordability for a 90-year term, according to Davis.  

The three projects have each requested TIF financing, with 75 percent of the tax revenue on the increased value of each property to be returned to the developers. 

The Housing and Economic Development committees have recommended them for approval and the City Council had a first reading of the requests on July 13. 

Valley Street

Representatives of Avesta, Acorn consulting and architect Ryan Senatore presented plans for the 200 Valley St. project at the June 23 Planning Board workshop. 

A rendering by architect Ryan Senatore of the apartment building proposed for 200 Valley St. in Portland by Avesta Housing. (Courtesy City of Portland)

Senatore said the first floor of the building will include a community room, office space, and laundry room. The sidewalks will be rebuilt with brick and one existing street tree will be retained and four new ones planted. Junipers will be planted between Florence House and the new apartment building. A rooftop screen will block the view of mechanical appliances from the Western Promenade across the street. A portion of the first floor and a basement level will be used for parking. Combined with street parking there will be 40 total spaces available, and racks for 24 bikes. 

The amount of affordable housing units gives the project height and density bonuses, so this project gets an additional 25 feet of height and the minimum rear setback is reduced to zero. 

Board Chair Brandon Mazer questioned why they were not using the full height bonus to add another floor with more units. 

Catherine Elliott, development officer at Avesta Housing, said the team settled on 60 units as the “sweet spot” that balances the combination of funding sources available and the types of exterior and unit features they felt were important to include.

The application stated that all of the units would have the same design features and characteristics, in order to promote economic integration and destigmatizing affordable housing. 

Elliott said another consideration was fitting the context of the neighborhood since the building is already on the larger side. 

The board discussed ways more landscaping could be included, suggesting adding some green roof elements. The applicants indicated they hoped to be able to use some of the in-lieu fees they will pay for 55 of the required 60 street trees for that purpose. 

Avesta has requested $595,000 in HOME or Housing Trust Fund support from the city.

The total cost of the project is estimated at $14 million, and the new total assessed value when completed is estimated at $6.2 million. Over the course of a 30-year TIF agreement, if approved, an estimated $4 million in tax revenue on the increased value would be returned to off­set project operating costs. The rest of the taxes on the increased value, estimated at $1.4 million, would go to the General Fund. The city is expected to save $1.1 million in tax sheltering through the course of the TIF. 

Avesta is also seeking a federal 9 percent low-income housing tax credit and tax­-exempt debt of nearly $1 million from MaineHousing. Approval of the 75 percent TIF agreement is necessary for these financing opportunities. 

Planning staff stated that a condition of approval is that following the 30-year agreement, if the units are no longer designated affordable, at least six must remain workforce housing to comply with city inclusionary zoning requirements.

However, in response to a question at the June 10 Housing Committee meeting about how long the units would be required to be affordable, Davis responded that projects that receive HOME funds must remain affordable for 90 years. 

“The determination of the term of affordability gets complicated when there are several layers of subsidy or requirements in one project,” she explained in an email July 14. 

She said the affordability term under the inclusionary zoning ordinance is 20 years, and under state affordable housing TIF requirements and Housing Trust Fund city requirements it is 30 years. The city has developed a more restrictive policy than federal requirements, Davis said, requiring that projects funded through the HOME Program be affordable for 90 years.

With layered requirements, the highest is the one that is used.  

“Through all these layers, the project will be required to have 48 of the 60 units affordable for 90 years,” Davis said.     

The applicants requested expedited scheduling of a final hearing and said they hope to get approval for the project by the summer. 

Jordan Bailey is a freelance writer and former staff writer for the Phoenix.