Avesta President/CEO presents 10 recommendations to address affordable housing crisis

Avesta Housing President & CEO Dana Totman recently gave a virtual presentation to the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce and guests as the featured presenter at the Chamber’s monthly Eggs & Issues event. Totman gave a brief overview of affordable housing in Maine, addressed the current affordable housing crisis in the state, and gave 10 recommendations to improve affordable housing in both the short-term and the long-term. Click here to view the presentation.

Dana Totman announces retirement from Avesta Housing

Dana Totman has announced his retirement as president and CEO of Avesta Housing, effective later this year.

A lifelong Mainer, Totman has served as president and CEO for nearly 22 years, during which the nonprofit affordable housing organization has undergone tremendous growth. Under his leadership, the number of staff has increased from 60 to 300, affordable homes in the Avesta portfolio have increased from 700 to 3,200, and assets have increased from $60 million to $350 million. He has been integral in the creation of multiple statewide affordable housing bonds, the formation of the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition, and the creation of the first Housing First communities in Maine.

As Avesta Housing celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, it does so as the largest nonprofit affordable housing provider in northern New England. It is a leader in advocacy, real estate development, property management and resident services, residential care and assisted living, and financial counseling and education.

Totman said these factors played heavily in his decision to retire.

“It’s never easy to know the perfect time to step back from a role like mine, but what crystallizes it for me is knowing Avesta is stronger than ever. Avesta is at its pinnacle and primed for the next leader to take it further and higher than before,” Totman said. “This milestone year symbolizes a half century of community impact through affordable housing. It also feels like the fitting time for me to step down and pass the reins to a new leader to launch this organization into the next 50 years.”

Totman has been a highly respected leader in the nonprofit sector and a tireless advocate for safe, quality, affordable housing in Maine and New Hampshire for decades. For his hard work and dedication, he has received many well-deserved accolades and awards over his tenure.

“Over Dana’s career, few people have done more to advance the cause of affordable housing, particularly in Maine. Dana’s deep belief in Avesta’s mission and his compassion for the most vulnerable among us have been an inspiration to many,” said Jonathan Culley, chair of the Avesta Housing Board of Directors. “The Avesta Housing Board of Directors is extremely grateful for the incredible work that Dana has done to advance the organization while always staying true to our mission to improve lives and strengthen communities.”

A search for the next president/CEO will begin in the coming months. Totman will stay through summer 2022 to lead the organization and support the search for his replacement.

After-school program launched at Brick Hill

SOUTH PORTLAND — Avesta Housing and Boys & Girls Clubs of Southern Maine (BGCSM) have partnered to provide a unique after-school program in the Brick Hill neighborhood of South Portland that, if successful, may be expanded to other communities across southern Maine.

Two days a week, staff from BGCSM provide on-site after-school programming to children in grades kindergarten through fifth in the community room of Brick Hill Heights, an Avesta Housing affordable housing property. The program is open to residents of the surrounding community, which includes Brick Hill Heights and three other Avesta properties—Brick Hill Townhouses, Brick Hill Cottages, and West End Apartments. Avesta staff currently working there are from the neighborhood, including one who lives at Brick Hill Townhouses.

The one-year pilot program was made possible by a $50,000 grant from the United Way of Southern Maine’s Brick & Beam Society.

BGCSM’s ability to transport youths to its Clubhouses has been greatly impacted by the COVID pandemic. By offering on-site after-school programming to elementary school students in low-income communities, it can provide academic support, STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) activities and overall wellness promotion at a critical stage of childhood development. During school vacation weeks, interested attendees will be bused to vacation camp at the Portland or South Portland clubhouse.

“Great futures should be accessible to everyone, regardless of who they are or where they come from,” says Brian Elowe, BGCSM’s CEO. “Programs like this remove barriers to access. We are excited to be working together with Avesta and the Brick & Beam Society to build great futures for the youth in southern Maine.”

The after-school program is representative of the close relationship between Avesta Housing and Boys & Girls Clubs, which partner on many initiatives for youths in southern Maine. Both organizations are optimistic that it can be extended beyond the current one-year period at Brick Hill as well as to other Maine communities.

“We are pleased to offer after-school programming to our Brick Hill residents with Boys & Girls Clubs of Southern Maine,” said Nicholas Kjeldgaard, resident services manager with Avesta Housing. “Promoting resident well-being and success lies at the core of our mission, and this program is part of that commitment.”

NBT Bank donates $25,000 to provide affordable housing for seniors

PORTLAND, Maine—NBT Bank has donated $25,000 to Avesta Housing’s Silver Hearth Fund to help provide affordable housing and services for older adults in Maine and New Hampshire.

Avesta provides safe, affordable quality homes to more than 4,500 people each year, half of whom are ages 55 and older. Still, the need for affordable housing for seniors far exceeds Avesta’s capacity. The Silver Hearth Fund was created in 2019 to address this need by providing resources to build new housing, improve existing housing, and expand services for older adults.

“NBT is a longtime supporter of Avesta Housing, and this gift will go a long way toward providing security and wellbeing to older adults in our communities,” said Avesta President & CEO Dana Totman.

NBT’s gift brings Avesta Housing closer to hitting its $2 million fundraising goal for the Silver Hearth Fund, thus helping to ensure that seniors will receive the affordable housing assistance they deserve.

“Affordable housing remains a challenge for many Maine residents, especially our senior population,” said NBT Bank Maine Regional President Kimberly Twitchell. “On behalf of our President & CEO John H. Watt Jr. and all of us at NBT Bank, we extend our appreciation to the Avesta Housing team, which continues to combat this issue with its impactful programs and services, such as the Silver Hearth Fund. As a community bank, we’re invested in being a good neighbor and are proud to be able to support this important work.”

NBT Bank offers personal banking, business banking and wealth management services from locations in seven states, including New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine and Connecticut. NBT has served Maine since 2014, and the company’s Regional Office is located at 5 Widgery Wharf on Portland’s waterfront.

For more information about The Silver Hearth Fund and to donate, visit: http://www.SilverHearthFund.org

Left to right: NBT Bank Maine Regional President Kimberly Twitchell, Avesta Housing President & CEO Dana Totman, NBT Bank President & CEO John Watt Jr., and Avesta Housing Director of Development & Communications Sara Olson

Former Avesta employee becomes first Somali-American mayor in U.S.

Somalia was on the verge of civil war when Deqa Dhalac fled the capital city of Mogadishu 31 years ago and began her journey to become the first Somali-American mayor in the United States.

On December 6, 2021, she was formally seated as the top elected leader of Maine’s fourth largest city. Her latest accomplishment was the subject of a joyous phone conversation on Sunday with her mother, who still lives in Mogadishu.

Commission: Eliminate single-family zoning to increase housing

Recommendations from the Commission to Increase Housing Opportunities in Maine by Studying Zoning and Land Use Restrictions include eliminating single-family zoning, allowing in-law apartments as a matter of right and removing municipal growth caps.

Avesta receives $75K grant for affordable housing pre-development

Avesta Housing has received a $75,000 grant from the Five Together Foundation to address the affordable housing crisis in the state.

Established in 2005, the Five Together Foundation supports initiatives in youth leadership and development, services to families in need, and preservation of American democracy. The grant will provide Avesta with the means to cover pre-development costs such as land identification and acquisition, feasibility and site assessment, and schematic design for four affordable housing properties in Maine. When completed, these properties will add an additional 200 affordable homes to Avesta’s portfolio and house 350 to 400 people.

“Affordable housing doesn’t spring up overnight,” said Avesta President and CEO Dana Totman. “There are many things that have to happen before the first shovelful of dirt is moved, and all of them demand considerable time and resources. This grant will help us do the preparation work necessary to move forward to the construction phase.”

Avesta Housing has been a leader in providing safe, quality, affordable housing for almost 50 years. In those five decades, the need for affordable housing has never been greater than right now.

The record-breaking real estate market has severely depleted the housing stock for both home buyers and renters, and what remains is out of reach for people of low to moderate income. Many who were on the verge of being unhoused before the COVID-19 pandemic are now without homes or are perilously close to the brink.

“We had an affordable housing problem before the pandemic,” Totman said. “The pandemic has thrown gasoline on the fire.”

Avesta Housing has more than 3,000 affordable housing units, and more than 600 units are in the pre-development or construction stages. But it’s still not enough to meet the need. The number of inquiries for affordable housing with Avesta is almost 7 times greater than the number of available units. The Five Together grant will help provide Avesta with additional resources to address that need.

Senior support worker connects older adults with resources

Avesta Housing has created a new staff role to safeguard housing stability for older adults living in our properties. This “senior support specialist” will provide one-on-one support to senior residents with mental health issues who are struggling with day-to-day tasks necessary for independent living. The program’s goal is to ensure residents receive the help they need before a crisis develops, enabling them to maintain an independent lifestyle for as long as possible.

The senior support specialist is a trained professional contracted through Maine Behavioral Healthcare who will meet regularly with senior residents to help Avesta Housing resident service coordinators (RSCs) identify those who need additional resources, such as support with housekeeping, medication management, and coping skills to deal with social isolation. The senior support worker and RSCs will then connect those residents to the appropriate resources.

Numerous studies have shown that unless there is a safe, clean space for someone to call home, the likelihood of them having access to food, staying on top of their medical needs, and developing meaningful social interactions is remote. When a person has a mental illness, these issues can be compounded. Avesta provides safe, clean, affordable homes to over 1,500 adults ages 55 and older with an average annual income of less than $18,000 per year.

Although an employee of Maine Behavioral Healthcare, the senior support specialist will work exclusively at Avesta Housing properties. This makes the position the first of its kind in Maine and could provide a template for other affordable housing agencies in the state, explained Nicholas Kjeldgaard, resident service manager with Avesta Housing.

“Many seniors in Avesta Housing communities are experiencing some level of mental illness, and wait lists for assisted living and nursing homes are long. Those options are also very expensive,” Kjeldgaard said. “We wanted to create a program that would keep people in housing longer by either supporting the residents directly or providing more support for the RSCs. It’s a win for the staff, and more importantly, it’s a win for the residents.”

The senior support specialist will primarily operate in Avesta properties located in rural communities that lack readily available resources. It was patterned after Avesta’s Homeless to Housing program, in which a caseworker provides support to formerly homeless residents living in Avesta communities.

Initial funding is provided by Avesta’s Silver Hearth Fund, a $2 million fundraising campaign dedicated to providing affordable housing and services to older adults in Maine. If the senior support specialist program proves successful, Avesta will apply for additional funding via grants and other means to continue funding the position and possibly expand the program.

The senior support specialist is just one of many resources funded by the Silver Hearth Fund that are helping Maine’s senior residents live in affordable housing with the quality of life and dignity that they deserve.

“Older residents sometimes need support in identifying and accessing the services they require to maintain their health and housing stability,” Kjeldgaard said. “The Silver Hearth Fund builds capacity for Avesta’s resident service coordinators to connect frequently with those residents, which helps to ensure that they’re living with the utmost dignity, health, safety, and happiness.”

Southgate named one of best affordable housing developments in nation

The Affordable Housing Tax Credit Coalition (AHTCC) announced Sept. 23 that Southgate in Scarborough, Maine, is a 2021 recipient of the Charles L. Edson Tax Credit Excellence Award in the Rural Area category, recognizing affordable housing developments and organizations that have demonstrated impactful use of the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (Housing Credit).

Presented annually, the Edson Awards honor Housing Credit developments that strengthen communities, improve resident opportunities and support economies in urban, suburban and rural areas across the country. This year, the awards coincide with Congress’ consideration of budget reconciliation legislation that would make major investments in housing infrastructure at a time when communities nationwide face ongoing economic challenges and housing insecurity from the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Affordable homes developed with the Housing Credit prove that an effective solution exists for the housing crisis that continues to impact communities and families nationwide,” said AHTCC Executive Director Emily Cadik. “This year, we are awarding properties serving veterans, individuals suffering from opioid addiction, and low-income senior citizens, in addition to outstanding affordable housing preservation efforts and new construction built to meet the needs of surrounding communities. These are just a few examples of what the Housing Credit achieves every day to provide much-needed affordable housing.”

Southgate, developed by Avesta Housing, is a historic landmark repurposed to create affordable housing in a high-cost growing community. Southgate provides 38 much-needed affordable homes for individuals and families with incomes between 30 and 60 percent of Area Median Income (AMI), with eight of the homes reserved for people who have experienced homelessness. Southgate consists of studio, one-, two, and three-bedroom apartments in two separate buildings: Eight homes are located in a rehabilitated brick historic farmhouse and 30 homes are located in a newly constructed building.

Development was funded with multiple resources, including the 9 percent Housing Credit, a combination of Affordable Housing Program awards from two different Federal Home Loan Banks, federal and state historic tax credits, tax increment financing, below market debt, a sponsor loan, and a grant. Syndication for the property was provided by Boston Capital. Southgate was renovated from a historic farmhouse built in 1805 by Robert Southgate. As one of the town’s oldest surviving structures, the property is a Maine landmark and a key part of Scarborough’s cultural heritage. Southgate is the first-ever adaptive reuse of a farmhouse in Maine and stands as one of the best examples of a preserved, Federal-style brick farmhouse in New England.

“The Charles L. Edson Tax Credit Excellence Award is one of the most prestigious awards to be bestowed upon affordable housing developments in the country, and we are honored to be among this year’s recipients,” said Dana Totman, president and CEO of Avesta Housing. “It is testament to our commitment to provide safe, quality affordable housing to residents in Maine and New Hampshire.”

Since 1986, the Housing Credit has financed more than 3 million homes for low-income households, including and formerly homeless individuals and families, people with disabilities, veterans of the armed forces, and senior citizens. Through public-private partnerships, the Housing Credit offers a proven track record of financing safe, modern and well-designed affordable homes in communities where they are needed most.

“The Edson Award winners this year demonstrate the flexibility of the Housing Credit to meet the needs of households and communities from Eagle River, Alaska; to Wichita Falls, Texas; to Scarborough, Maine,” said Matt Josephs, AHTCC Board President and Senior Vice President for Policy for the Local Initiatives Support Corporation. “As we continue to confront the impact of the pandemic, it is vital that tools like the Housing Credit are enhanced and strengthened, so that we can better address our national housing crisis that grows more urgent by the day.”

For more information about the 2021 Edson Awards, please visit taxcreditcoalition.org/edson-awards/.

Avesta Housing HomeOwnership Center receives major grant to aid Maine residents

Avesta Housing’s HomeOwnership Center (HOC) has been approved for a grant of more than $80,000 from NeighborWorks America, a congressionally chartered nonprofit organization that creates opportunities for people to live in affordable homes, improve their lives, and strengthen their communities. The grant will help HOC assist Maine renters and homeowners stay in their homes in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has put a great strain on personal finances.

The grant is part of NeighborWorks’ Housing Stability Counseling Program and is made available under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. The competition for the grant monies was extremely high—NeighborWorks received requests totaling more than $348 million, which was more than four times the amount of funding available.

Totaling $82,240, the grant is among the largest ever received from NeighborWorks by Avesta’s HOC. The funds are greatly needed to help Maine residents cope with financial uncertainty brought on by the pandemic’s effect on the labor market coupled by escalating home prices, rent, and the cost of everyday household necessities.

“We are so excited to be recipients of this grant. Participating in the Housing Stability Program gives us the resources to help our most vulnerable clients that are facing eviction or foreclosure,” said HOC Director Nicole DiGeronimo. “The COVID-19 pandemic put a strain on Mainers who were already susceptible to financial instability and at a higher risk for losing their homes. Having the funding to support these clients is essential so that we may provide counseling and be that trusted resource to those who are seeking assistance in stabilizing their housing.”

Avesta’s HOC is a HUD-certified housing counseling agency. It provides counseling services for renters aspiring to become homeowners or who are struggling to maintain financial stability, homeowners at risk of losing their homes due to foreclosure or who are seeking expert advice on maintaining and improving their homes, and any community member who needs a plan for their personal financial goals.

For more information about the Avesta Housing HomeOwnership Center or to inquire about services, visit: www.AvestaHOC.org