Portland may look to help fund an Avesta Housing project that had been seeking federal funding but is facing challenges due to a tight timeline.
This came out of a City Council workshop on Sept. 22, where Finance Director Brendan O’Connell and interim City Manager Danielle West said Avesta, which had applied for $5 million under the American Rescue Plan Act, are in a predicament where they need to close on a property earlier than ARPA funding could be administered.
The property they are looking to acquire, called Winchester Woods, is near Presumpscot Elementary School. It had sought funding under the second tranche of ARPA funding. Portland received more than $46 million in federal funding under ARPA, and just over $11 million remains. O’Connell said housing was the biggest priority applied for under these funds.
Winchester Woods has already been constructed, so Avesta is looking to acquire the 48 units spread out over four buildings.
Mary Davis, the city’s acting housing and economic development director, said the city could look to use other funding to help Avesta with this project, including about $2 million in funding from the Jill C. Duson Housing Trust Fund and $1 million from ARPA funding that had been allocated to other projects. That would leave a funding gap for Avesta to make up, which several councilors said was a concern.
While councilors were in support of the city pursuing helping Avesta, there was concern expressed that they wouldn’t want to see a funding gap be a hangup for the project going forward.
Councilor Pious Ali, for example, asked if the city could ask state counterparts to help find the remaining funding. West said city officials are already seeking help from the state.
Mayor Kate Snyder said one reason the city might pursue this project is if Avesta did acquire the property, all 48 units would become affordable housing. Mary Davis said if Avesta weren’t able to acquire it, only 12 units would become affordable, and the rest would be workforce housing.
Additionally, the first 12 units would become available before the end of 2022. Davis said the buildings would become available under a staggered approach.
“I do think this hits Council goals squarely,” Snyder said.
Councilors also mentioned this would help asylum seekers who are currently staying in hotels.
West said that “to the best of our abilities” the city would look to refill the Housing Trust Fund when able, but that it might not be fully replenished.
As this was a workshop, no decisions were made. This item will return to the Council’s Finance Committee on Oct. 13 and Oct. 20, and will come before the Council for a first read on Nov. 7 before a vote on Nov. 21.
All told, the city received more than 50 applications for some $33 million in ARPA funding to spend this past summer, and have just $11.2 million remaining. The city has to allocate the remaining funds by Dec. 31, 2024.
Councilor Tae Chong said he supported this project as it would potentially save the city money down the road, given that asylum seeking families wouldn’t be in hotels and that the children in those families would be close to a school and therefore not need busing.
Councilor Mark Dion said he supported this project because it was a “turnkey” property, and not a construction project that would take years to finish. He said the first building could be ready for occupancy by the end of October.