First Avesta Housing Educational Scholarships Awarded

Dina Malual’s grandmother and nieces joined her to accept the Avesta Educational Scholarship.

Earlier this year, Dina Malual and her friends started Sudo, a youth group that represents the South Sudanese female voice in Maine. As Dina explains, “We wanted to create a movement which both challenged us intellectually and enabled us to explore our heritage. In the U.S., we are all unified by our South Sudanese heritage. However, in South Sudan, we are often torn apart by tribalism. Sudo uses art as a tool to bring all tribes together as one. Being in the U.S. allows me to break the expectation and inspire young South Sudanese girls, in the U.S. and South Sudan, to seek an education. As for the political state of South Sudan, the conflict is deadly. The largest tribe, of which I am a member of, is in constant war with the second largest tribe. Creating Sudo has increased my desire to go back and change the norms in South Sudan.”

Avesta Housing Resident Service Coordinator Nick Kjeldgaard and Avesta Housing President & CEO Dana Totman present Dina Malual with a $1,000 scholarship.

Dina’s maturity, leadership, and global awareness earned her one of Avesta Housing’s first educational scholarship awards. Avesta awarded Dina $1,000 toward her tuition at Emmanuel College, where she is currently a freshman. Dina says that being an Avesta resident has helped her greatly and that “the diversity in my complex is amazing… I’ve learned the true definition of a community. I’m able to truly understand the value of being a part of something bigger than me. Whether I’m asking my neighbors for milk, or simply saying ‘hi,’ the Avesta community is welcoming. The welcoming feeling has allowed me to help out in my community. My location has allowed me to walk to the basketball court, take my nieces to the park right across the street from my house, and always be in the heart of the city. Having the privilege of living by convenient stores, a playground, and my work, I’ve been truly blessed to walk everywhere and explore what Portland has to offer. Not only has the Avesta community been quick to react to every problem my family has ever had, but they’ve been passionate.”

Pamela Muzika is a senior at Babson College, where she studies business management with a double concentration in accounting and real estate. She says that living in an Avesta community has broadened her global perspective: “On my street, I am surrounded by so many diverse people from all walks of life. I have been able to talk with and listen to people from all over the world, which has shaped my outlook on life and future plans. It has also helped me to think beyond the United States, and has aspired me to work globally.” Pamela wants to work abroad in emerging markets, and is interested in returning to Africa to help develop DR Congo’s economy.

Pamela Muzika accepts her educational scholarship.

Pamela was selected for the Avesta Housing Educational Scholarship because of her commitment to her communities, both local and international, and family. When asked how she might affect change in her community, Pamela said, “If I could do anything to change my community in a positive way, I would share my business knowledge that I have accumulated at Babson College and help my neighbors, who are mostly immigrants and refugees, in teaching them some basic financial literacy skills. I would also mentor the kids in my community about the college process, and help them access and obtain the numerous resources out there available to people who aspire to higher education.”

Dina and Pamela were the first recipients of the Avesta Housing Educational Scholarship, and they have set the bar high for future applicants. These bright young women have their eyes focused on building healthy futures for themselves and the communities in which they live.

Renters’ Credit Proposal Would Address Maine’s Most Pressing Housing Problem

 

 

A new proposal recently floated by the Center on Budget & Policy Priorities would tackle the single most pressing housing problem that we encounter at Avesta: a profound lack of affordable homes for extremely low income people.

In January of 2017, 369 households (representing 668 people) came to Avesta seeking an affordable home. Their average annual income was $14,400 and only 25% of them had any kind of rental assistance in hand. Households headed by a senior (age 55+) represented the largest share of these applicants.

In that same month, because turnover is so low and the resources available to build new, affordable apartments are so scarce, we were only able to provide housing to 35 households. And the bottom line? Without the benefit of rental assistance, the best that extremely low income households could get is their name on a waiting list. Of the 35 families we were able to house in January, 27 had rental assistance and the other 8 had incomes averaging nearly twice that of our typical applicants.

In other words, the typical household that comes to us for help in securing an affordable home is almost assuredly not going to get it unless they have the benefit of rental assistance. And only 25% of them do.

It is precisely this problem that the CBPP proposal would address. A new “project-based” renters’ tax credit could help a substantial number of the lowest-income renters — including low-wage workers, poor seniors, and people with disabilities — afford decent, stable housing.

It would help these families afford a home by providing states with credits that they would allocate to rental housing owners and developers for use in particular developments. Families living in renters’ credit units would pay no more than the accepted federal standard of affordability for rent and utilities – 30% of their income – and the rental unit’s owner would receive a federal tax credit in return for reducing the rent to that level.

If funded at a $6 billion level nationally, the proposal would ensure that 3,200 highly vulnerable Maine households – the ones who right now can only put their name on a list and wait – have the basic, safe affordable housing they need.

Such an approach would also help to address a jolting imbalance in current federal housing expenditures, which overwhelmingly benefit high-income homeowners over the low-income renters who have the greatest needs.

Avesta looks forward to working with our partners across the state and the country in helping to give this proposal the public awareness that it – and those we desperately want to help but currently cannot – deserves.


 

By Greg Payne, Development Officer/Coordinator, Maine Affordable Housing Coalition

Laurie’s New Home

Sitting in Laurie’s new apartment with her and two of her three sisters, it’s hard to believe that this photograph of her was from just last month. In this picture, Laurie Rennae is sitting on the front steps of the small apartment building she had been staying in, waiting for her sisters to pick her up. Her face shows the weariness of having spent too much time in an unsafe and overpriced apartment. But there’s a glimmer of hope in there too. It’s moving day. Laurie was moving into a brand new affordable senior apartment building, Ridgewood at Village Square in Gorham, Maine. In fact, Ridgewood was so new that Laurie was the first resident there and lived in the 24-unit building all by herself for two weeks!

Like so many other seniors in Maine, Laurie struggled to find an affordable, safe, quality home. She was bouncing around between friends’ and families’ houses and substandard apartments, but had hit rock bottom in her most recent apartment. This overpriced, second-floor walk-up apartment posed serious mobility issues, and the lack of insulation and heat created dangerous living conditions for Laurie, who suffers from COPD and uses an oxygen tank to assist with her breathing. She ended up in the hospital with pneumonia on numerous occasions because of the living conditions.

Born and raised in Portland, Laurie and her sisters talk fondly about the “good old days,” when they walked from their home on Munjoy Hill to school and sock hops… They remember a Portland from a time when they would walk from one end of town to the other for visits with friends and family. Laurie graduated from Portland High School in 1976 and then entered the working world where she filled numerous positions – cleaning person, office manager, and wellness nurse – to name a few. She proudly recollects the work she did and the people she helped over the years. An independent and hard-working woman, Laurie was able to support herself throughout her life. It wasn’t until her health challenges prevented her from working that living safely and affordably became a significant and life-threatening problem for her.

Laurie’s first day as a Ridgewood resident.

In the spring, Laurie’s living situation became desperate and she came to Avesta Housing for help. Unfortunately, like so many others, Laurie was told that there were no vacancies and that her name would be added to the wait list. With high demand for affordable housing throughout southern Maine, Laurie knew it could take years for an apartment to become available. Then one day in July, Laurie and her sister were driving down Cumberland Avenue in Portland. They were stopped at the red light in front of Avesta’s main office when Laurie received a call from Avesta Property Manager Krissie Bodkin-Rubino. Krissie called Laurie to inform her that an apartment was available in the new building at Ridgewood at Village Square. Laurie explains that she couldn’t stop crying and kept asking Krissie if “this is real.” It all seemed too good to be true.

As Laurie and her sisters take turns telling Laurie’s story, I can’t help but cheer on the inside as she reaches the “happily ever after” part. Her brand new apartment. One sister explains, “My sister has never had brand new. Never. But no matter where she lives, she makes it ‘new,’ because she works hard to clean it up and make it nice.” But finally, she doesn’t have to do all the heavy lifting. The construction of Ridgewood was completed in June. The paint still smells new, the floors are shiny, and all the furniture in the brightly lit community room is pristine. Her first floor apartment is located close to the front door and community room, so despite her limited mobility, she can socialize with her neighbors or step outside for some fresh air. And the best is yet to come.

Avesta Housing has partnered with MaineHealth to bring enhanced healthcare to residents in Laurie’s Village Square community. In this pilot program, a community health nurse employed by MaineHealth visits Village Square monthly to provide onsite access to basic healthcare education, consultation, and care.

Additionally, Ridgewood has a private wellness room with telehealth technology. An expanded program building on the nursing pilot to provide more comprehensive care for patients identified as high risk is anticipated to launch in October. Laurie looks forward to engaging in these healthcare services to increase her access to healthcare and improve her health. In the meantime, Laurie gives me a relieved smile and assures me, “I’m ok here. I’m safe.” Welcome home, Laurie.

 

Join Laurie and other Ridgewood residents at a grand opening event to celebrate the new senior affordable housing with a focus on healthcare. The event is open to the public and will take place on Thursday, October 20 from 10:00am-12:00pm. The address is 8 Millett Drive, Gorham, Maine.

 

 

Back to School

Buses are rumbling down the streets and school bells are ringing. It’s official… back to school for kids all over Maine and New Hampshire this week! As they don their backpacks and lace up their sneakers, we wish everyone a great school year filled with fun and learning.

Students: expand your knowledge, make new friends, try new things, and be the best you you can be. Teachers: Thanks for all you do every day to support your students. And to the nearly 500 school-age children who live in Avesta Housing communities: we’re rooting for you!

Avesta Resident Service Coordinator Nick Kjeldgaard catches up with Yohanita before she starts fourth grade.

We caught up with a few Avesta kids earlier in the week and asked them about school. And while they all shared great excitement for going back to school, their reasons varied:

Ariane, 7th grade: I love school because it gives me new opportunities to learn. I love doing new science experiments, playing flute, and singing in the choir.

Yohanita, 4th grade: I like hanging out with my teacher and learning math. I want to learn more about science and math so I can be a great student.

Gwen, 1st grade: I like going outside for recess and playing on the playground. We get to go to the art room every Wednesday, and I love to paint!

So whether you are hopping on a bus, driving, walking, or bicycling your way there, have a great school year!

First grader Gwen loves recess and art!

 

Ariane loves science and can’t wait to perform in band and choir.

Top 5 Things to Do Before You Move into a New Apartment:

1. Look through your belongings and get rid of anything you have not used or worn in the past two years, because chances are you will not need it in the future. This is a great time to donate your items to a local shelter or second-hand store. This is also a great time to go through your cupboards and throw out any old spices and canned/packaged food that have expired. Get rid of any furniture that may not fit in your new place.

2. Pack a box of essential items that you will need immediately when you move into your new place (important paperwork, phone numbers to local utility companies, a few cooking utensils, and dishes). Pack one room at a time and clearly mark these boxes. Pack the kitchen and bathroom last as these are the rooms and items you will be utilizing until the day you move.

3. Change your address at the post office, doctors’ offices, utility companies, schools, places of employment, the bank, pharmacy, and any other companies you do business with.

4. Meet with your new landlord to walk through the apartment. Take measurements and have a plan of where you want furniture to go. Look over your lease carefully and take your time to review it with the landlord. Have the landlord do a pre-inspection of the apartment with you and write down anything that needs to be fixed or changed before you start moving in.

5. Have movers or friends and family lined up to help you the day you move. Assign people jobs (last minute packing, carrying heavy items, driving the vehicles, someone to entertain the kids etc.). Have someone picking up food/coffee for your volunteers! It’s a great way to repay them and keep them motivated.

Lastly remember to take your time unpacking and decorating. This is your new home and you want to feel comfortable and relaxed when you walk through the door. Welcome home!


Krissie Bodkin-Rubino is a Property Manager at Avesta Housing. She has a degree in social work with a focus on human services and mental health.

 

 

 

 

7 Tips to Being a Better Technology User at Work and Home

As an IT professional, I deal with a lot of technical issues on a daily basis. Things go wrong for a myriad of reasons and there are any number of possible solutions, but there are definitely a few tips you can follow to avoid landing at your IT person’s desk.

Here are 7 tips anyone can use to become a better IT user at work and home.

1. Enter at your own risk

More problems stem from Internet-related baggage than anything else. Going to unsecured websites, opening email that is from someone you don’t know, or clicking on links and ads that appear on webpages can all download harmful software to your computer. Being mindful of the places you go digitally can help keep you from accidentally downloading something that you don’t want. A lot of times this software just causes more ads and pop-ups on your computer, but sometimes it can be very devastating. Malicious software can capture information that you send out through the Internet, including bank and/or credit card information. The website where you shared personal information may be secure, but the software hidden on your computer may have bigger plans.

2. Don’t save your passwords

I know! It seems impossible to avoid, but saving your passwords (digitally or in written form) is just as bad as not having a password. Better yet, you should be changing passwords regularly to ensure security. Saving your passwords can open access to your personal and financial information online. Just as bad as saving passwords is keeping easy-to-guess passwords. Using your name, or the name of a family member, or an important date in your life can all be easy to guess for someone that knows even the slightest bit about you. Be creative!

3. Restart!

This advice is as old as computers, but people still forget. When things go wrong, the first thing you should do is restart your computer. Restarting stops programs that are running, including the ones running in the background, and resets everything that has been changed but not saved. Restarting can resolve many problems, and it saves a lot of troubleshooting time.

4. Google is your friend

If restarting doesn’t resolve your issue, go to Google. Type in what your device is doing (or not doing) and see what the results are. I’ll let you in on a secret… IT professionals don’t always know the answers right away, but they know Google does.

5. Updates help

It’s shocking how many people I know that don’t run updates on their devices. Whether it be your computer, tablet, or smartphone, all software will release updates at some point. Running updates regularly can fix so many issues, and keep you from getting new issues in the future.

6. Experiment

That’s right: experiment. This sounds scary at first, and things can certainly go wrong, but the easiest way to learn how something works or what something does is to try it. Don’t worry – your IT person can probably tell you what went wrong, why it went wrong, and how to accomplish what you were hoping for in the first place. It’s a great way to expand your tech knowledge.

7. Never tell a lie

One time I was helping a colleague with his computer screen which had “mysteriously” blanked out. An hour after troubleshooting every possible cause, he confessed he spilled a whole glass of water down the front of it. Had I known that from the start, I could have had a brand new screen up and running in less than an hour and not wasted so much time. Bad call. If you do need assistance from an IT professional, just tell him or her exactly what the problem is. Trust me, they’ve seen it all.

Bonus Tip

If you haven’t figured it out yet, let me tell you an important technology tip for the workplace – be extra nice to your technology support staff! They’re a busy crew in any size organization, but they can drop everything and save your day when you least expect and most need it. A smile and a thank you will go a long way!


Roger Redin is the Technology Support Specialist at Avesta Housing. He also teaches technology classes at Bath Adult Education. Roger has been in the IT field for 13+ years.

 

 

 

 

Interviewing 101

The job interview: potentially one of the most dreaded – but necessary – events of our adult lives. But beyond an hour in “the hot seat,” interviews can – and should – be an interactive process. You are getting to know the company as much as they are getting to know you. The reality is that an interview is a chance to get in the door. Obviously, the employer saw something in your resume and cover letter that made them want to get to know you more. Now is your chance to get to know them too. Here are some basic tips to help you get through the interview and land the job:

  •   Do your homework. Understand the job you’re applying for and what the company wants. Do some research on who they are: what are their core values? Do they have a mission statement? This will help you tailor your responses to the company and help convince them that you’re the best candidate for the job.
  •   Dress for the job. Make every attempt to look as presentable as possible. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to show up wearing a suit and tie, but do dress for the job. For more service-oriented or production positions, for example, a suit may not be your best option. For professional or office positions, go dressier. Jeans are typically a little too casual for any interview – try khakis instead. Avoid short skirts and tank tops altogether.
  •   Be nice to the receptionist. Best case, this person is going to be your new coworker – don’t start out on the wrong foot. Realistically, the chances are the interviewer is going to find out how your interaction with the receptionist went and this could impact your chances of getting the job.
  •   It’s ok to be nervous. Most interviewees are, and recruiters understand that. In this case, honesty can be your best option: let the interviewers know that you’re nervous. From a recruiter’s standpoint, it can be better to have someone who is nervous than someone who is cocky. Try to relax and engage in the interview!
  •   Sell yourself. Your resume got you in the door, but now you need to convince them that you’re the best person for the job. Be confident. You know you can do the job. Try giving examples when you answer questions: this will tell the interviewers more about you and your abilities than just a yes or no answer. For example, if they ask, “How do you deal with difficult customers,” tell them about a particularly challenging situation that you handled well (don’t get too caught up in the details – they just want to hear how you dealt with it successfully).
  •   Be prepared with questions. Most interviews end with, “Do you have any questions for us?” The recruiter wants to know if you have thought about the job and are engaged – this is your opportunity to show that you are. While you might think of additional questions during the interview, it’s always best to come prepared with some just in case. Even generic questions like, “What do you like best about working here?” or “What would you say are the top three characteristics one needs to succeed in this job?” show that you are interested. That said, be wary of wording. Instead of asking, “What will I be doing?,” try asking, “What does a typical day/week/month look like for this position?” Some recruiters don’t mind if you ask about pay, but definitely don’t make that your first (or worse, only) question.
  •   It’s your interview too. This is your chance to get to know your boss before you start working there. Find out if s/he is someone you can actually work with, or if his/her supervisory style will drive you crazy (another potential question to ask, “How would your direct reports describe your supervisory style?”). You could find out that the position has extremely high turnover and they typically have to hire new people every month – are you going to be able to work in an environment like that? An interview where they don’t even allow you to ask questions could be a red flag, for example: it could mean that they really don’t care what you think. Take this opportunity to figure out if you actually want the job, or if you could actually see yourself working there. This is where those questions are essential!

Finally, keep in mind: the people interviewing you all sat in that same seat at one point. They’re human too, and they probably dislike interviewing for new jobs just as much as you. In the end, the interview is just a conversation you are having to find out more about each other. Take this opportunity to put your best foot forward and land the job you deserve!


Alexandria Chase is the Human Resources Specialist for Avesta Housing, and has over 10 years of experience in recruiting and human resources. 

 

 

 

Why Escrows Can Increase in Fixed-Rate Mortgages

Explaining Increasing Escrow: With 2016 just around the corner, many families are looking at their budgets for next year and wondering how the mortgage payment will fit into their finances. Did your mortgage payment increase even though you have a fixed-rate mortgage? That’s because of an increased escrow payment. With any mortgage, there are two reasons why your escrow could increase:

 

  1. Regular Yearly Increase

Your monthly mortgage payment includes more than just the principal and interest on your loan.  It also includes money that goes into an escrow account that pays your property taxes and homeowners insurance.  It is completely normal for your mortgage payment to go up a little bit every year as property taxes increase.  Some of the increase that you’re  seeing on your  2016 mortgage payments is simply your mortgage company anticipating that your taxes will rise, and trying to adjust your payment to make sure that your escrow account will have the funds to pay the taxes.

 

  1. Increase Due to Escrow Shortage

The reason why our payments are going up more than we are used to is because the mortgage companies underestimated the amount that our property taxes would increase in 2015.  Because the mortgage companies underestimated, the escrow payments that we made during this past year were not enough to pay all of our 2015 property taxes.  This is called an “escrow shortage.”

For the sake of explanation, let’s say that you paid $3,000 a year in property taxes in 2014, and that you’re mortgage company assumed that you’d pay $3,400 in 2015.  This would increase your mortgage payment by $33.33 a month in 2015.  But what if you mortgage company underestimated the amount that you had to pay?   Let’s say that you actually had to pay $3,900 in 2015, so you actually should have been paying $75 a month more.  Now that 2015 is over, you’ve underpaid $41.67 per month for 12 months, leaving your escrow account $500 short.

Obviously, you still need to pay this money.  Your mortgage company with give you the option to pay it all as one lump sum, or to spread the amount over your 12 payments in 2016, causing your mortgage payments for 2016 to rise $41.67 in addition to whatever the regularly yearly rise will be.

 

What Can You Do?

The combination of making up the shortage and adding in the estimated increase for 2016 could potentially add up to quite a bit of money for some homeowners.  It’s important that you know that Avesta’s HomeOwnership Center can help you figure out how to make ends meet with your increased housing costs.

We can help you come up with a plan to get through the next year of higher payments.  We also know about money saving  tips, like the Homestead Exemption and energy saving ideas that can help decrease your monthly costs.

Free financial counseling for Avesta residents

The Avesta NeighborWorks HomeOwnership Center (HOC) is partnering with Avesta Housing communities to offer free financial counseling and education to residents. The HOC is excited to help Avesta residents meet their financial goals!

In these financial counseling sessions, affordable-housing residents learn about how to build a strong credit score. The goal of our resident seminar is to demystify how credit works and empower residents with the knowledge they need to feel in control of their credit. The HOC’s credit-counseling clients often say that they are “afraid” to look at their report because they don’t want to face a bad score. This fear stems from the fact that people don’t understand how credit works and aren’t aware how simple changes can increase their score.

For example, many people don’t realize that closing old cards you don’t use anymore can decrease the length of your credit history and pull your score down. It’s also important to realize the balances that you carry on your cards are almost as important as whether you pay your bills on time! Instead of paying off cards one at a time, a better strategy might be to pay down all the cards at once until they’re all under 30% of their limit.

Simply understanding how credit works can make people feel much more confident moving forward. This financial counseling seminar helps people face their credit fears and understand how credit works, with the goal that every one leaves class with realistic strategies to improve their financial well-being.

Avesta resident embraces healthy living and loses 120lbs

Avesta Housing resident Judy Pulsifer of Stonecrest in Standish, Maine has lost 120 pounds, thanks to inspiration from an Avesta-sponsored cooking class offered at her property last year. Judy says learning how easy it was to make healthy, budget-friendly food like roasted vegetables and soup motivated her to lose the weight she’d always wanted to lose. Before her commitment to getting healthy, she had become a recluse in her apartment. She had low self-esteem, was lonely, unable to shop for herself and couldn’t enjoy activities with her grand kids.

After a gastric bypass, other residents at the property joined Judy in her quest to start eating healthier. They began using the buddy system to keep each other on course. Instead of bringing each other cookies, they brought fresh vegetables from the Stonecrest community gardens, which also increased her interest in gardening. They looked forward to their regular cooking classes and encouraged the group to continue.

After losing 14 lbs in the first two weeks, Judy began eating a mostly vegetarian diet, became devoted to portion control and never deprives herself. She says her new lease on life allows her to participate in many new activities and be much more social and healthy. One of the best rewards for her dedication? Being present at her granddaughter’s graduation, something she never expected to attend! When asked her secret, she advises: “Consistency is important. Eat fruits and veggies every day. Exercise daily, even if it’s walking or doing housework. Get your friends and neighbors on board to help. Keep journals for food, exercise and emotional states. Remember that getting off track for one meal doesn’t mean the whole day is ruined. Get back on track with your next meal or snack. Don’t deprive yourself. If you want dessert, have some but keep your portions small. Love yourself and give yourself credit for making the effort.”

Avesta staff send many congratulations to Judy for this major accomplishment, her commitment to healthy-living and for inspiring so many others along the way!