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.”

Avesta HomeOwnership Center gives Maine family tools to purchase first home

Photo: The Kanakan family, left to right — Andom, Mitchell, Jonathan, and Jeannicaise

Buying a house can be a stressful experience, especially when it’s your first home. Add a red-hot real estate market to the mix, and it may seem like an unobtainable dream.

That’s how Jeannicaise and Andom Kanakan felt last spring when they explored the idea of moving out of their apartment and into their own home.

When they began the process of looking for a house, Jeannicaise and Andom were living at North Deering Gardens, an affordable housing community in Portland, with their son Mitchell, 9, and nephew Jonathan, 26. They quickly became overwhelmed by the arduous process of finding something in their price range, navigating the mortgage process, and other factors that go into purchasing a home.

“We didn’t know anything about buying a house,” Andom said, “and the market was so crazy, it seemed that buying one would be out of reach.”

Then some friends told them about the Home Buyer Education Class, which is offered at least once a month by the Avesta HomeOwnership Center (HOC). Students learn the home-buying process from A to Z—everything from budgeting and building healthy credit to finding a lender, working with a realtor, and going through the closing process.

After taking one of the courses online, the Kanakans felt confident that they had the knowledge and the wherewithal to proceed. In June, they closed on a three-bedroom house in Westbrook. Andom said the HOC’s homebuying class was key to making that happen.

“They taught us everything about the process,” she said. “They gave us the information and the confidence we needed to find a home that was just right for us.”

Click here to sign up for a Home Buyer Education Class today!

Avesta Housing featured in Mainebiz 2021 Giving Guide

The past 19 months have not been easy for nonprofits in Maine. The COVID-19 pandemic, wage uncertainty, worker shortage, rising costs of goods and services, and more have forced many to rethink their fundraising strategies and day-to-day operations. Avesta Housing is no different. Read about how we have addressed these tumultuous times and what we are doing to accomplish our mission to provide safe, affordable housing in the 2021 issue of the Mainebiz Giving Guide by clicking here.

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 ready to start Conway project

CONWAY, N.H. — A construction firm has been hired for the first of four affordable apartment buildings approved for the Avesta Housing Development Corp. site off Technology Lane.

Patrick Hess, project manager at Avesta, a non-profit based in Portland, Maine, said Tuesday they hope to start construction this fall on the first 40-unit, three-story building.

Conway Daily Sun

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

Housing shortage, high rents vex Lewiston-Auburn market

LEWISTON — Ann and Paul Rivers moved to Lewiston for “a fresh start,” but have been living in a tiny attic apartment with no kitchen or bathroom.

The couple, who are in their 60s, have looked into some 20 apartment listings since the spring with no luck. For one apartment, the Rivers’ were one of 30 respondents to the landlord, but the unit was gone within an hour. And they’ve suddenly noticed steep prices.

“Nothing’s ever easy,” Paul Rivers said this week. “The prices I’m seeing are ridiculous.”

Sun Journal

Inn at Village Square resident assistant: ‘I learn new things every day’

Caring for older adults wasn’t Julie Martin’s first career choice. In fact, she didn’t start until she was in her 50s.

But now she couldn’t imagine not doing it.

“There are some life lessons to be learned from the elderly,” she said.

Julie, 58, grew up on a farm in Gray, and now manages her own 150-acre farm in Gorham. After getting a degree in animal science, she landed a job immediately after college with a veterinarian who specialized in on-site embryonic transfer in cattle. When the vet retired almost 30 years later, she found herself at a career impasse.

She remembered a nearby housing development where she would take her 4-H students to visit: Inn at Village Square, an assisted living facility under the Avesta Housing umbrella. And she remembered how much she and the children loved interacting with the residents.

“I thought, ‘It’s a cute little place, and it’s only 2 miles from home. I think I’ll check it out,’” she said. “I didn’t really know what I was getting into.”

 

Julie quickly realized that she had much to learn. She took classes to become a personal support specialist, then became a certified residential medication aide. But she felt she still didn’t have the skills necessary to care for residents like she wanted, so she became a certified nursing assistant.

Today, Julie is a resident assistant at Inn at Village Square. Her main duties are delivering medication, providing direct care, and helping residents with activities of daily life, such as helping them get to the dining room at mealtimes. But there are other duties as well, such as helping the activities director organize events like socials, holiday dinners, and off-site visits.

One of her favorite things about the job is simply talking to residents. She’s found that many of them grew up on farms themselves, which makes it easy to form connections. About three years ago, she began taking residents on visits to her farm, where they can pet the animals, tour the land, and watch the sunset over the horizon. They now lovingly refer to her as “Farmer Julie.”

“They share their stories, I share my story, and it’s just a lot of fun,” she said. “I guess I’ve always been a people person, and I just didn’t know it.”

To be a resident assistant, one must be a people person, she said—someone who has a lot of patience and empathy in addition to the required professional skills. Someone who is willing to work with a team.

Someone who isn’t afraid to try new experiences.

“I learn new things every day,” she said, “and I’m open to learning new things every day.”

West End Phase I development nears completion

Unique times require a unique approach. With West End Apartments in South Portland, Avesta Housing is transforming a property that will not only alleviate the city’s immediate need for affordable housing, it will jump-start the community’s transition into a robust urban village.

Often, when a new affordable housing development is proposed, there is some opposition from people living in the affected area. This was not the case with the West End development. Historically low-income, the area has been identified for revitalization by the city as part of its master plan, and residents have long wanted improvements. Avesta worked side by side with city leaders and members of the community to design a development that fits the neighborhood’s current and future needs.

When finished, West End Apartments will be comprised of two buildings with a combined 116 units and on-site amenities such as a general store/restaurant, social services, and space for community activities. A new bus station, crosswalks, and walking paths provided by the city will make it easier for residents to access public transportation and nearby amenities, such as the Maine Mall, the Portland International Jetport, the Portland Trail Network, and numerous retail, service, medical, and hospitality establishments.

“Avesta operates a large affordable community in the West End area and has been investing in the health and future of this neighborhood for years. West End Apartments will play a major role in continuing to transform the neighborhood,” said Rebecca Hatfield, senior vice president of real estate for Avesta Housing. “We are creating a diverse, mixed-income community that is accessible to amenities people need for everyday living.”

 

Located at 586 Westbrook St., West End Apartments is a mixed-income development divided into two phases. Phase I, the larger of the two, consists of a five-story building with 64 apartments (ranging in size from studios to three-bedrooms) for individuals and families, with on-site laundry facilities and an indoor bicycle storage area.

The ground floor will include a large community room for residents and neighbors, and office space for The Resource Hub social service center run by The Opportunity Alliance, a nonprofit community action agency servicing Cumberland County. (Prior to construction, The Resource Hub operated out of a trailer on the site.) Several outdoor plazas will provide space for residents and other members of the community to congregate.

An additional amenity of Phase I will be a first for Avesta Housing—an on-site convenience store/restaurant on the ground floor. Avesta purchased the land from Le Variety, which operated a popular convenience store on the site, and made arrangements for the owners to move into a larger space in the new building—a shell space that they will finish independent of the residential development. The store/restaurant will be in a separate condominium that will not be owned by Avesta.

Construction on Phase I is in its final stages, and residents begin moving in this month.

Phase II will consist of another five-story building with 52 apartments that, like those in Phase I, will consist of mixed-income units ranging in size from studios to three-bedrooms, on-site laundry facilities, and a bike storage area. The ground floor will include a small office space for Avesta Housing property management team to assist residents. Construction on Phase II is in its early stages and is targeted for completion in summer 2022.

Avesta and Kaplan Thompson Architects have designed both buildings to maximize sustainability and energy efficiency. The shape of the building is atypical in that it has very few square corners to best utilize every inch of available space. Natural gas is limited to domestic hot water boilers, and the plumbing fixtures were carefully selected to provide adequate water pressure at the lowest volume to reduce fossil fuel consumption. The roof is designed to support solar panels in the future.

West End Apartments represents Avesta’s commitment to not just build affordable housing, but to improve communities. When completed, it will be more than just a place to live—it will be a vital component of South Portland’s West End neighborhood.