PORTLAND, ME [July 18, 2008]--After reviewing a lawsuit against Avesta Housing and the City of Portland by neighbors to stop a comprehensive women's center—Florence House—from being built on Valley Street, Cumberland County Superior Court Justice Robert Crowley upheld the conditional rezoning that had received unanimous support from both the Planning Board and City Council.
Avesta and its service partner Preble Street will move forward with the project immediately. Avesta has purchased the site, will solicit construction bids later this summer and anticipates a fall construction start. Florence House will be ready to house its first residents in fall 2009.
Dana Totman, Avesta Housing CEO, said, "This is great news and will allow us to finally get this critically needed housing started. Hopefully homeless women in Portland will have a new home for the winter of 2009/10."
While the lawsuit was pending and until Florence House opens, homeless women in Portland are being housed at a stop-gap shelter above the Soup Kitchen at Preble Street Resource Center, where their cots disappear every morning.
Homelessness in Greater Portland has increased 100% since 1993. At the same time, the supply of affordable housing has decreased, and Portland has lost more than 100 single room or boarding home units due to conversion or demolition. People who suffer from disabilities, poor health, or addictions are especially likely to remain on the streets for months and often years.
"For women who are homeless sleeping on mats on the floor at night and wandering the streets every day has been the norm for far too long," according to Mark Swann, Preble Street Executive Director. Florence House was conceived in response to the overflow at the Portland city shelter and the shortage of housing options. The need became an acute crisis when the YWCA closed and 60 additional housing units for women were lost.
When Avesta and Preble Street opened Logan Place, a similar development, in 2005, the number of chronically homeless people sleeping at the city shelter dropped dramatically. And Swann reports that a recent study demonstrates a huge savings in the cost of providing municipal medical and emergency services for those people who have moved off the streets and into housing.
Florence House will provide 25 furnished single occupancy apartments; semi-private safe haven units for 15 women, and 10 emergency beds. Avesta will develop, own, and manage the property; and Preble Street will provide 24-hour staffing.
Florence House is supported by a public/private partnership including MaineHousing, TD Banknorth, Northern New England Housing Investment Fund, Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston, US Department of Housing and Urban Development, Portland Housing Authority, City of Portland, and the State of Maine.
According to Elaine Rosen, Preble Street Board Chair, "We have helped homeless women move from mats on the floor to cots, and we will soon be helping them move to their own warm beds. We will all sleep better."