The Porch Light

News and perspectives from Northern New England's nonprofit leader in affordable housing


Community gardening improves quality of life for seniors in Raymond

7.22.13

This is part one of a three-part series on community gardens at Avesta properties.

Gardening is a newfound passion for Benny. He had a small garden years ago but said he gave up on it after his wife died in 1983. A former Portland cab driver, Benny has lived at Avesta’s Jordan Bay Place, a housing community for people 62+ in Raymond, for six years but didn’t get involved in the community garden until last year.

And now he’s hooked.

Jordan Bay Community Garden

From left, Benny, Michial and Junior talk about their community garden plans

He visits the garden “a dozen times a day” and half-jokingly admits to singing to the plants. “I didn’t think I’d get into it this much,” he says.

Benny is one of a handful of residents at Jordan Bay who have thrown themselves into the community garden. On a recent overcast day, the residents were out surveying the garden with Michial Russell, the farm manager for Pearson’s Town Farm at Saint Joseph’s College. Michial has been helping the residents double the size of their garden this year, thanks to a $400…


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Community focus at Oak Street Lofts show for First Friday Art Walk

7.5.13

It’s the first Friday of the month, which means the art gallery at Oak Street Lofts in Portland is open to the public tonight for First Friday Art Walk. This month, we’re featuring the artwork made by children at several of our properties, including Pearl Place I and II in Portland and North Street in Westbrook.

We held several art-making events at the properties, where we asked children to create art on the theme of what community means to them. The children made collages, paintings and drawings depicting some familiar community landmarks, like Deering Oaks Park and Reiche Community School, as well as their families, friends and neighborhoods.

Artwork made by children on display at Oak Street Lofts

The children’s work is juxtaposed with art made by residents of the Marshwood Center, a skilled nursing facility in Lewiston. Their work debuted last month, and several of the artists came to Portland for the opening on June 7. Their excitement at seeing their work hanging in a gallery was evident as they studied the walls of framed paintings, and their family members were there to share in the…


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“You’re nobody without the trappings of belonging”: What it means to be homeless

6.20.13

Back in December, I attended the Institute for Civic Leadership’s Leadership in Action Breakfast, which featured two advocates for those experiencing homelessness — Mark Swann, executive director of Preble Street, and Suzanne McCormick, executive director of the United Way of Greater Portland. Both served on the city of Portland’s homeless prevention task force (along with Avesta’s President and CEO, Dana Totman) and had compelling information and experiences to share about homelessness in Portland.

Suzanne described her day shadowing employees at the day shelter, where an elderly man was ill with a cold and wanted nothing more than to lie down and rest. But, as Suzanne recounted, lying down is not allowed at the day shelter. This example seemed to really resonate with the crowd, and stuck with me. I take for granted all the comforts that a stable home provides, like a bed to lie in when I’m sick, that those experiencing homelessness must do without. A bed, a place to simply rest, becomes a luxury.

This account will be on my mind tomorrow during Homeless Voices for Justice’s Summer Solstice “sit-out” in Post Office Park in Portland. The summer solstice is the longest day for those…


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Our Pearl Place II Grand Opening: A recap

6.14.13

On Monday, under skies that threatened rain but never followed through, we celebrated the grand opening of one of our newest properties, Pearl Place II in Portland. If you missed my previous post about our 10-year history of developing housing on Pearl Street, you can read it here.

Despite the clouds and the chill, the event was a great success. We saw lots of our partners, friends, colleagues, advocates, employees and residents. We heard from Portland Mayor Michael Brennan, who talked about the success of the city’s efforts in partnership with Preble Street to find housing for homeless individuals; Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, who remarked on the sheer amount of construction happening in Portland, a commuting hassle but a very promising sign of better times in the city; MaineHousing Director John Gallagher, who reminded us all of the complex partnerships that have to happen in order for housing projects like Pearl Place II to come to fruition; and Isaac Bujambi, a new American and new Pearl Place II resident, who shared his heartwrenching story of fleeing his home under persecution in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and living in unsafe and unsanitary conditions in a refugee camp….


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Pearl Place II continues our legacy of affordable green building

6.7.13

We’ve got something of a reputation for our green building. It was nearly 10 years ago that we developed our green design standards, recognizing that an efficient building is one that lasts longer, costs less over the long term, and provides a healthier living environment.

We built the first affordable housing development in the state to receive LEED certification, and we also built the first affordable, multifamily property to receive LEED Platinum certification.

We’ve received national recognition for our energy-efficiency – in 2008, we received the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED For Homes Award for Pearl Place I (Multifamily category); in 2012 we received the LEED for Homes Award for Oak Street Lofts (Outstanding Affordable Developer category); and just last month Oak Street Lofts won the Charles L. Edson Tax Credit Excellence Award in Green Housing.

LEED For Homes logoNow we’ve added another green building to our mix: Pearl Place II, a 54-apartment community in Portland completed in January. Like Pearl Place I, phase II is designed to qualify for LEED certification in the LEED for Homes program. Energy models estimate that Pearl Place II is 25% more efficient…


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