Barry Tibbetts is the town manager of the town of Kennebunk and Peter Morelli is the Planning and Development Director of the city of Saco, we had a chance to visit with them and hear some of their thoughts on affordable housing.
Avesta Housing's Tyler DeVos: How does a city or town such as Saco or Kennebunk begin an affordable housing project with a company like Avesta?
Barry Tibbetts: The Town was fortunate to be able to receive two schools from the MSAD 71 school district. We hosted a series of public hearings on what are the best potential uses, many residents participated in the process and overwhelmingly wanted affordable/workforce housing for seniors. There was a need for affordable/workforce housing. Both school locations were in residential neighborhoods. Engaging the public is very important in the process, building a consensus on the best uses, and then looking for funding along with a willing partner. Fortunately Avesta is willing to use their expertise for this type of project.
Peter Morelli: Housing providers in Saco see long waiting lists, and the city knows what the need is. City council members have an expectation that we try to help as many of those people as we can and affordable housing is part of our agenda. However, we don't have the capacity for affordable housing - properties need to be purchased, and it's hard to generate capital to build. Avesta is a long-term player and experts in affordable housing; they are one of the very few agencies with the resources and the know-how to complete these types of developments. We talk to Avesta when we find a logical site or project. There are a lot of buildings that were once churches or schools and when vacated I give Deb Keller (Avesta Housing, Director of Programs) a call to inform her of the potential site.
TD: How does affordable housing benefit a city like Kennebunk or Saco?
Barry Tibbetts: Having affordable housing within the community is an important element. The benefits of having this housing can be seen from many angles. Having a place for the elderly or those less fortunate allows a community to have mixture of residents. Providing housing that can also support or fill the need for workforce placement is important to the businesses and community.
Peter Morelli: In Saco's downtown, there are a lot of buildings that have the potential to be converted to affordable housing. These potential projects are good for our vision of the downtown. We need hundreds more people in the downtown area every day to help support our business district. Thriving communities are good for the city of Saco and affordable housing helps fuel them. For example, in northern Saco, Avesta has started work on a new property, Cascade Brook. There are restrictions on how far outside of the city center projects can be to qualify for affordable housing funding. We were able to show Maine State Housing Authority how there is an emerging town center in this area, and southern Scarborough, that warranted the project. Affordable housing is built to meet residents need.