Dana Totman of Avesta Housing talks about combating Maine affordable housing crisis

Avesta Housing President & CEO Dana Totman talks about the housing crisis in Maine in an episode of News Center Maine’s “Unscripted” series.

News Center Maine

Longtime housing advocate named to new post advising Mills administration

Gov. Janet Mills has named a longtime housing advocate to advise her administration on housing policy as it ramps up efforts to address a growing critical need for affordable housing in Maine.

Greg Payne, who has been development officer at Avesta Housing in Portland and director of the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition for nearly 15 years, will become Mills’ senior adviser on housing policy on Sept. 7.

The position was created to help the Mills administration meet demand for about 20,000 affordable, safe and accessible housing units across the state, according to the Maine State Housing Authority. To make a serious dent in that need – which has grown more acute in the last year during a pandemic-driven real estate boom – housing advocates say the state should promote policies and provide funding to help developers build at least 1,000 housing units per year.

Portland Press Herald

A marriage of two food purveyors moves forward in Scarborough

Firehouse Village, which will host a Rosemont Bakery and Harbor Fish Market, as well as an Avesta Housing development, officially broke ground this week in Scarborough and aims to have some tenants’ doors open this fall.

The 2.7-acre project, located off U.S. Route 1 between Westwood Avenue and Fairfield Road, is the redevelopment of the former Oak Hill fire and police station.

Mainebiz

Technology Lane given conditional approval by Conway Planning Board

CONWAY, N.H. — The Conway Planning Board gave conditional approval on June 11, 2020 to the nonprofit Avesta Housing Development Corp. of Portland, Maine to put up 156 workforce and senior rental housing units off Technology Lane.

Avesta owns and manages more than 90 properties in Maine and New Hampshire.

Technology Lane will be extended to a southern connection to Route 16 across from Merrill Farm Resort, with the units divided among four buildings.

Conway Daily Sun

Commission begins study of barriers to affordable housing in Maine communities

A new 15-member commission will meet for the first time this week to begin studying how local land-use and zoning laws may prevent affordable housing development in Maine communities.

The Commission to Increase Housing Opportunities in Maine by Studying Zoning and Land Use Restrictions was created with the passage of a bill sponsored by House Speaker Ryan Fecteau to identify systemic issues holding Maine back from building and renovating more affordable housing. The commission’s first meeting will be held Thursday at the State House.

“Maine is facing an affordable housing crisis,” Fecteau said in a written statement announcing the commission members Tuesday. “Our work is about cutting the red tape standing in the way of building and revitalizing more affordable housing here in Maine. In too many municipalities, a web of various zoning and land use ordinances and state laws, some decades old, are preventing sensible affordable housing projects – big and small – from coming to fruition. We aren’t only thinking of erecting new housing; we hope to explore ways to incentivize the revitalization of buildings and housing stock that already exists across Maine.”

Portland Press Herald

Women to Watch: At Avesta, Rebecca Hatfield is advocating for affordable housing

Mainebiz

Avesta Housing basketball court provides recreation for Westbrook neighborhood

At each of our properties, Avesta Housing strives to create an environment that serves the needs of its residents and the neighborhood in which they live. This includes providing activities and amenities that promote physical activity, team bonding and community good will.

Two of our communities, Hyacinth Place and Steeple Square in Westbrook, Maine, have more than 100 youths ages 6 to 18. The properties share a park that is used for communal gatherings, gardening, and recreational activities. We were alerted to the need for a basketball court in the park through an annual needs assessment, as the nearest one was located a mile and a half away and required children to walk across a major commuter road.

“Getting kids outside and engaged in outdoor activity is an essential component of a healthy, safe community,” said Marguerite Walz, resident service coordinator for Hyacinth House and Steeple Square. “When they are idle, they tend to cause more trouble, so we are always looking for ways to keep them busy and give them structured activity.”

To make the basketball court a reality, Avesta worked closely with members of the community and received a matching grant from the Cornelia Warren Community Association, a nearly 100-year-old organization dedicated to benefiting the citizens of Westbrook. Construction on the fenced, regulation-sized court was completed in summer 2019, and we marked the occasion with a grand opening barbecue.

Today, the basketball court is used not just by residents of Hyacinth Place and Steeple Square, but by people from throughout the neighborhood—an example of how Avesta Housing strives to improve the communities in which our properties are located.

Deering Place provides much-needed housing in downtown Portland

As the real estate market in Maine continues to break sales records, the availability of affordable housing is becoming extremely scarce. This is especially evident in downtown Portland, where skyrocketing home prices and rent threaten to displace the city’s working class.

Deering Place Apartments, Avesta Housing’s latest development in Portland, is providing hope for these and other low- to moderate-income residents. A mix of existing and new construction, this community is providing housing in a densely populated area at a time when the need has never been greater.

The campus consists of 75 units in three apartment complexes located on contiguous lots in the historic Parkside neighborhood: 63 Deering St., a new building; 61 Deering St., a renovated structure; and 510 Cumberland Ave., an adaptive reuse of an existing one-story building and parking area with a new addition.

Deering Place Property Manager Taylor Williams

Avesta Housing purchased the property in 2016 from the Opportunity Alliance, a community action agency that serves more than 20,000 people annually throughout Maine. The two nonprofit organizations have long had a close relationship, so when the Opportunity Alliance moved to another Portland location, selling the Parkside property to Avesta was the logical choice. The campus’ proximity to nearby schools, medical facilities, public transit, employment opportunities, recreational areas and other downtown amenities made it an ideal location for a new affordable housing project in the city.

The campus is a mixture of affordable, rent-restricted, and market share housing. Apartments range from studios to three bedrooms, and heat and hot water are included in the rent. Onsite amenities include a community room, laundry rooms, snow and garbage removal, and limited off-street parking.

As with all its properties, Avesta works with residents of Deering Place to ensure they receive the assistance and accommodations that they need. Some of the apartments are being rented by graduates of PSL Services’ Strive U, which teaches adults ages 18-24 with emotional and intellectual disabilities the skills needed to live independently. (Click here to view a recent TV news report on Avesta’s relationship with Strive U.)

Maureen and Brian McAdams, who recently moved into Deering Place, were experiencing financial problems due to the cost of Brian’s cancer treatment. Avesta helped them receive rent relief, made adjustments to their apartment to make mobility easier, and secured two handicapped spots in the parking area for their use.

“Everything is close to everything I need,” said Maureen. “The staff has been so helpful and friendly.”

Although work on Deering Place is behind schedule due to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent shortage of material and labor, we anticipate that everything will be complete by the end of August. Most of the apartments are fully leased and occupied, providing what is at the core of Avesta Housing’s mission: giving people a safe, affordable place to call home.

For more information about Deering Place, click here.

Maine Voices: Progress stirs long-elusive hope of addressing affordable housing crisis

“Now that leaders in Augusta and Washington have responded, we must design programs that help the people who need it the most.Over the past several decades, the lack of affordable rental housing throughout Maine and the United States has taken on such a level of intractability and pervasiveness that it has come perilously close to being an accepted norm. Long waiting lists, growing homelessness and families living constantly on the brink of catastrophe – these are the everyday fruits of a systemic imbalance between income and housing costs that metastasize across various elements of people’s lives and jeopardize their health, education and economic futures.Thankfully, leaders in Augusta and Washington, D.C., have begun to stir something that has proved elusive for far too long in the effort to address our housing affordability crisis: hope.Last year, Gov. Janet Mills and House Speaker Ryan Fecteau teamed with leading Republicans, including Sen. Matt Pouliot and Rep. Sawin Millett, to create the most valuable policy tool in Maine history to increase our supply of affordable homes: the Maine Affordable Housing Tax Credit. That program will provide a much-needed jolt to the anemic 230 new units-per-year pace of affordable housing production that Maine has averaged over the past seven years.

Gov. Mills and the Legislature have now approved $50 million of American Recovery Plan funds for affordable workforce housing. There have also been hundreds of millions of dollars dedicated to emergency rental assistance during the pandemic, and eviction moratoriums have minimized displacement. This new attention on affordable housing is almost dizzying to those of us who are used to begging for budgetary crumbs and for simple acknowledgment that we have, in fact, an affordable-housing problem.

Despite all of this progress, there is much work still to be done. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, 65,904 Maine households were paying over half their income on housing before the pandemic. These residents, who mostly have very low incomes, desperately needed affordable housing but didn’t have it. Then the pandemic hit and exacerbated the situation. Furthermore, the shallow pool of affordable housing previously available to low-income renters has been depleted even further by skyrocketing home prices, which has forced first-time homebuyers to rent instead of buy.

Now that our affordable-housing problem has been recognized and our elected officials have responded, we must design programs that provide help to the people who need it the most. This not a simple task since the new allocations of funding for affordable housing are enough to help only a fraction of the Mainers who need it. There are some who are adequately housed despite not having their ideal homes; for example, moderate- to high-income renters who have a decent affordable apartment but want to buy, and renters who would like to be in a larger apartment or different location. It is tempting to allocate funding to these groups, but we cannot prioritize them over the tens of thousands of people who are living in unsafe conditions and paying more than half of their income on rent – or who are unhoused altogether.

In a perfect world, we can help everyone, but in the reality of our finite resources in Maine, we need to help those who need it most: people who could not otherwise live in safe, high-quality and affordable homes. Maine needs to embark on a campaign to build 20,000 affordable rental homes for those with the lowest incomes and for those paying over 50 percent of their income on housing. One thousand new affordable rental homes for 20 years will get us there.

Let’s hold ourselves accountable.”

 

By Dana Totman, Avesta Housing President and CEO

Portland Press Herald

Lack of affordable housing leaves some renters desperate for help

Housing advocates say low-wage earners looking for an affordable place to live are often becoming “desperate.”

The federal moratorium on evictions, intended to protect struggling renters during the COVID-19 pandemic, is set to expire at the end of July.

Dana Totman, Director of Avesta Housing which creates and runs affordable housing units, says the nonprofit is answering up to 500 phone calls per week from Mainers seeking help.

WMTW