If you build it, they will sleep soundly

LEWISTON, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — What started as a concern for low income families in her community, has spawned into a business for Amy Smith.
Through Healthy Homeworks, anyone who can’t afford to buy a bed can earn one by building it themselves. Each homemade solid wood bed frame comes with a mattress and an encasement that keeps bedbugs out.
There’s one catch: if you want a free bed, you have to work for it and help build other beds that can be sold to the general public. The program just started last year, but Smith is hoping to appeal to more downtown landlords.
“We just opened our doors in September and we had 17 builders by the end of the year,” said Smith. “In the first three months of this year we’re up to 30 people, and our waiting list is 30 more people.”

Amanda Hill


Push for 300 elms for town’s 300th continues

HAMPTON FALLS — Community members are embracing the idea of bringing more American elm trees back to Hampton Falls. The trees grew in abundance in town years ago before they succumbed to Dutch Elm Disease over a period of many decades.

Half a dozen of the majestic shade trees were planted in Hampton Falls in 2007, and now more than 100 trees are slated to be available for planting by spring of 2020.

Organizers of the campaign to restore this natural beauty in Hampton Falls, Larry Smith and Judy Wilson, are working to get as many as 300 elms gracing the town’s roadways in honor of the town’s 300th anniversary.

The order of 100 disease-resistant trees from the Elm Research Institute in Keene reduces the price of each tree to $40. The discounted order was made possible due to individual property owners becoming involved in the project, as well as the purchase of 25 trees by Heronfield Academy on Exeter Road, and 23 trees by Avesta Housing (Meadows at Grapevine Run) on Brown Road.

Nancy Rineman


Avesta plans low-income senior housing in Paris

Avesta Housing plans to transform the historic Mildred M. Fox School in Paris into a 12-unit low-income senior housing complex.

Built in 1885, it was used as an elementary and high school, SAD 17 office space and then continued as the Oxford Hills Christian Academy until January 2016.

The Advertiser Democrat reported that ground-breaking is scheduled for this summer. Avesta will receive historic tax credits for the project. Historic elements such as the original hardwood floors will remain intact, Tom Greer of Portland-based Pinkham and Greer Civil Engineers told the local planning board at a recent hearing on the project, the newspaper reported.

Greer noted that a benefit of being in the village is that seniors will be able to walk most places.

“I think this is going to make it very successful,” he said.


Paris school to become elderly housing

PARIS — Avesta Housing has a green light to begin renovating the former Mildred M. Fox School into 12 low-income senior apartments this summer.

The first and second floors of the schoolhouse at 10 East Main St. will each have six apartments, each with a bedroom, a bathroom and a living and dining area, Shreya Shah, development officer for Avesta Housing, told the Planning Board last month.

The units will be available to those 55 and older with annual incomes of between $19,400 and $26,580. Tentative rents will be between $519 and $623 a month.

Erin Place

Oxford Hills Sun Journal

South Portland’s ‘The Hub’: Old trailer outside, community center inside

SOUTH PORTLAND — The floor tilts slightly to one side, and folding banquet tables serve as office desks.

There’s a coffee pot, informational pamphlets, photos of children, artwork, crafts and food. A small room at the front of the structure contains a book swap and a children’s clothing exchange.

The old trailer that houses the Neighborhood Resource Hub on Westbrook Street has seen better days. But it is a warm, welcoming place, known by neighbors as simply “The Hub” and to neighborhood children as “Merrie’s House.”

Merrie Allen, community builder with Community Partnerships for Protecting Children, an Opportunity Alliance program, runs The Hub at 586 Westbrook St., between Redbank and Brick Hill.

Allen calls it a safe space, where people are free from judgment. The organization strives to break down barriers and unite members of the community.

“People are thriving. There might be things that are in the way, so they don’t look like they are thriving, but they have the love and capacity to give back,” Allen said.

Melanie Sochan

The Forecaster

Maine’s affordable housing could suffer under Pres. Trump’s proposed budget

LEWISTON, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — President Trump’s proposed budget released Thursday could reduce Maine’s affordable housing due to its cuts to the department of Housing and Urban Development.

Thousands of families in Maine rely on federally funded housing. The President’s proposed budget would cut HUD funding by about 13 percent.

President and CEO of Avesta Housing, Dana Totman, one of the largest nonprofit housing agency in Northern New England, said these cuts could cause a chain reaction.

“The proposal is just devastating,” said Totman. “The carpenters, the sheetrockers, the plumbers, the folks who actually build those would not have jobs to do so.”

He said that these cuts could force nonprofits like Avesta, and others like them, to freeze construction of any new affordable housing. It could also force people waiting for housing to wait longer. It could also make people who live in affordable housing lose it.

Chris Costa


Furniture Friends giving help, hope to those with greatest needs

(NEWS CENTER) — We’ve all seen the heartbreaking stories of refugees from Syria: entire families forced to leave their homes – and nearly everything they own – behind with the hope of finding a safe place to live away from the fighting.

Some of them end up here in Maine, choosing to start all over again. And that means not only finding a new place to live but furnishing it, as well.

That’s where a local organization called “Furniture Friends” comes in, helping refugees and others build new homes and new lives.

“Because of the war, the crisis over there, we couldn’t stay any longer,” Yassin explains. His wife and four young kids arrived in Maine from Syria in November, and have slept on the floor ever since. Until now.

Westbrook-based Furniture Friends collects donated furniture and distributes to people in need changed everything.

Tory Ryden


Fox School purchase agreement extended one year

PARIS — At Avesta Housing’s request, selectmen agreed to extend the purchase and sale agreement on the Mildred M. Fox School by one year so the nonprofit can fill a $90,000 funding gap.

At the Feb. 27 selectmen meeting, Town Manager Vic Hodgkins informed the board of the request to extend the agreement for the historic school on East Main Street.

In August 2016, Avesta bought the three-story brick building from the town for $125,000 to transform it into affordable senior housing.

“They’re going to need a little more time than what the original agreement called for,” Hodgkins said. “And in that contract that we did sign, there is an option for them to exercise a second year.”

Erin Place

Oxford Hills Sun Journal

Four Alumni in Affordable Housing Describe Their Efforts to Shelter People

The McKeen Center for the Common Good recently hosted a panel of four alumni who are providing affordable housing in Maine and beyond. The four guests work for a social services agency, a law firm, a nonprofit affordable housing investment fund, and a nonprofit affordable housing developer. They answered a range of questions, from addressing the nitty gritty of their jobs to speaking about the entrenched social inequalities, market realities, and political inaction that can lead to homelessness.

The four panelists were Bill Shanahan ’74, president of Northern New England Housing Investment Fund; Cito Selinger ’81, secretary/treasurer of Maine Affordable Housing Coalition; Mark Swann ’84, executive director of Preble Street; and Matthew Peters ’04, vice president of Real Estate Services at Avesta Housing.

Rebecca Goldfine

Bowdoin News

Bed-making takes on new significance – Healthy Homeworks in Lewiston helps people hands-on improve their quality of life.

As is often the case with worthy ventures, Healthy Homeworks was not planned, but emerged spontaneously.

In January 2016, Amy Smith of Portland was interested in investing in affordable housing in downtown Lewiston. The research process acquainted her with “a tough situation.”

Smith, who manages intown properties part-time, and her husband, Nathan, worked through a number of older buildings and met a lot of tenants, and “learned where the pain points were … The generally poor condition of the housing. Lead paint poisoning. And so many people were really in need – didn’t even have their basic needs covered.

“Most people were sleeping on the floors, many of them on mattresses dragged in off the street. And those had bedbugs.

“The challenge was how to help out, from a health standpoint. And since there was clearly such a need for beds …”  Healthy Homeworks was born.

Portland Press Herald