The Porch Light

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


Unity Gardens community a canvas for resident artist

4.12.13

Sharon Cleaves has made her mark on Unity Gardens. The hallways of the Windham building are lined with her work, mostly pastoral scenes and coastal settings: lighthouses on grassy or rocky coasts; chickadees on moonlit birch trees; and rustic farmhouses, like the one she used to own on the Presumpscot River in Falmouth. She even paints the occasional cowboy.

Upwards of 100 of Sharon’s paintings hang in Unity Gardens, as well as several other Avesta properties in the Windham area. She made sure her favorites were hung on the second-floor hallway outside her apartment, with little cards tucked into the frame that read “not for sale.”

“I love to keep busy,” she says. “I’ve been painting all my life, almost 70 years.”

Sharon’s work now adorns one more spot in Unity Gardens: the elevator door. She recently completed an intricate garden scene that greets residents and visitors alike when they arrive at the elevator.

Unity Gardens Painted Elevator Door

The painting features a blossom-covered trellis opening to a flower-filled garden, where ladies in pastel-hued dresses and hats — and one dapper fellow in the background — stroll. The detail on the painting…


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Exploring new ways to build affordable apartments in Maine

4.4.13

Last month, Deutsche Bank and Enterprise Community Partners Inc. announced the four finalists in their national competition aimed at finding innovative ways to lower the cost of affordable housing. Bayside Anchor, a proposed multi-family housing development in Portland’s Bayside neighborhood, was selected as one of these finalists.

A rendering of Bayside Anchor by Kaplan Thompson Architects

A rendering of Bayside Anchor by Kaplan Thompson Architects

Avesta is pleased to serve as the development consultant with a stellar team that also includes Portland Housing Authority as the developer, Wright-Ryan Construction, Kaplan Thompson Architects, John Anton Consulting and the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition. These partners are leaders in the construction, sustainable design and affordable housing development fields. We are all energized by the idea of developing a cost-efficient affordable rental prototype in a downtown Portland neighborhood recovering from the devastation of urban renewal.

With Bayside Anchor, we hope to prove that first costs of development can be lowered without sacrificing investments that result in lower long-term costs throughout the life of a building. We think we can show that efficient, smart…


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Why you need to shop around for a mortgage

4.1.13

Interest rates are at a record low, but many borrowers are still reluctant to shop for the best mortgage loan – a decision that could cost them money.

Looking at data from the November 2012 National Housing Survey, Fannie Mae researchers found that close to half of lower-income mortgage borrowers said they did not obtain more than one quote when signing up for their current mortgage.

Couple buying a mortgageComparatively, three out of four higher-income respondents explored competitive offers and said better deals would definitely have an influence on their decisions.

“Although a home purchase is the largest financial obligation most people will ever make, many borrowers do not fully understand their mortgage products and costs,” said Fannie Mae chief economist Doug Duncan. “As a result, some homeowners in this position may find themselves with unsustainable payments down the road.”

Fannie Mae reported that failing to shop around for a mortgage can end up costing borrowers $1,000 or more in closing costs.

As a housing counselor, it’s my job to educate people on the importance of comparative shopping. I encourage clients to attend first-time homebuyers’ workshops as well as one-on-one pre-purchase and…


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How to get the most out of your tax refund

3.22.13

Use your tax refund wisely

A recent survey by TD Ameritrade finds nearly half of people expecting a tax refund said they plan to save the money, while 44% intend to pay debt. However, researchers found people tend to spend more of their refund than they anticipate, which means they don’t save as much as they want to, or don’t pay off as much debt as they need to.

Here are some smart ways to use your tax refund to boost your financial health.

Pay off high-interest rate debt, like credit cards

The average credit card interest rate is 15%, and for those with bad credit, it’s close to 24%. The average American household carries $15,000 in credit card debt. Pay down your credit card debt now to save yourself money in interest payments in the future.

Establish or rebuild your emergency fund

It is recommended that you have at least three to six months’ worth of living expenses in savings should you lose your job, get sick or face another challenge that makes it hard or impossible for you to work. Use your tax refund as a starter for this emergency…


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How housing and education go hand-in-hand

3.15.13

AmeriCorps Week

In honor of AmeriCorps Week, I’m sharing the words of Kemper Tell, a State and National AmeriCorps member who’s been working with Avesta since September to launch a number of programs for children in several of our properties, with a focus on children of immigrant families. As Kemper explains, education is a vital component of creating a safe, stable home.

Collaboration to Meet Needs

By Kemper Tell

Kemper_Tell_Avesta_AmeriCorps_web_full

Kemper Tell, State and National AmeriCorps member

Kemper is serving with Goodwill’s Multilingual Leadership Corps, an AmeriCorps program funded by the Corporation for National and Community Service through the Maine Commission for Community Service. A version of this blog post originally appeared on the Volunteer Maine blog, From the Field.

The need for safe and quality housing is a key to academic success for all children. This is especially true for new immigrants to the United States who face more barriers in becoming productive in society. Some barriers are learning a new language, facing a new culture, and activities as simple as knowing how…


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