Avesta partner provides groceries to food-insecure residents

Inflation hits lower-income populations the hardest. When the price of groceries increases dramatically, people who are already struggling to buy basic necessities are in danger of going hungry. Avesta Housing has formed partnerships with numerous food banks to help ensure that residents who are food insecure receive the help they need. One of the oldest and largest of these partners is Wayside Food Programs.

An Avesta staff member collects food from Wayside Food Program’s warehouse to distribute to residents during a summer barbecue for Pearl Place and Unity at Bayside in Portland.

A nonprofit founded in the 1980s, Wayside salvages edible food that is not sellable for cosmetic reasons, packaging imperfections, and/or inventory levels from grocery stores, wholesalers, farms, and other food establishments. That food is then redirected to soup kitchens, food pantries, and other social service agencies across southern Maine.

Wayside distributes community meals at two Avesta family properties: Brick Hill in South Portland and 409 Cumberland in Portland. It also provides food to our senior properties and at events held by property management teams for residents.

Many of the volunteers who assist with the distribution live at Avesta properties or in the surrounding communities, which typically contain the same economic demographic.

“Avesta has been a great partner for us, because it’s such a perfect fit,” said Wayside Executive Director Mary Zwolinski.

Unlike some food pantries that have designated pick-up times at a permanent location, Wayside operates as a mobile food provider. The concept is simple but effective: Bring the food to the people who need it.

“Wayside thinks outside the box,” said Nicholas Kjeldgaard, resident service manager with Avesta Housing.



Application period open for 2022 scholarships

Applications are being accepted for the annual Avesta Housing scholarship. The educational scholarship is open to Avesta Housing residents who are enrolling in a secondary education program — such as college, graduate school, trade school, or certificate programs — in the next 12 months.

The deadline for applications is May 9. Winners will be notified by May 20. We accept applications in all languages.

Avesta pilot program provides housekeeping assistance to seniors

SCARBOROUGH, Maine — Jeffrey Phillips lives by himself in a studio apartment at Southgate, an Avesta Housing affordable housing community in Scarborough. He suffers from a lower-back injury suffered while working at a dairy farm that limits his mobility. Everyday housekeeping tasks are difficult—and when housekeeping is difficult, it often doesn’t get done. It wasn’t long before Phillips found himself overwhelmed.

Then he was connected to a local cleaning service contracted by Avesta Housing. A worker came to his apartment and spent seven hours cleaning and whittling down the accumulated trash. His apartment still needs work, but it’s much better than it was, and it didn’t cost Phillips anything.

“It was really bad until she came over,” said Phillips, 74. “She did a really remarkable job, and I am very grateful.”

The housekeeping support is the result of a pilot program established by Avesta last year to help residents ages 55 and older who are medically compromised and need help maintaining their homes. The program, which is only available to Avesta Housing residents, is funded by a microgrant from the Silver Hearth Fund, a three-year fundraising campaign created to provide services to older residents. There are currently nine households receiving assistance, and there are 15 more on the waiting list.

“They’re good residents, they just can’t physically maintain their homes because of medical reasons,” said Marguerite Walz, a resident service coordinator in Westbrook, who is overseeing the program. “With that population, there is a lot of hesitancy and resistance toward this kind of service, so we tried to identify residents who were willing to get help. And surprisingly, a lot of them were.”

To ensure residents get the appropriate level of help, Avesta has partnered with Organize ME!, a business specializing in decluttering homes. In addition, Avesta is collaborating with Eric Grainger, who headed the Hoarding Task Force in Maine, and students from the University of New England to help with cleaning.

Walz is hopeful that additional funding can be obtained so that the program can continue.

“There is a lot of need out there, so there is a lot of excitement about this,” she said.

PHOTO: Jeffrey Phillips in his apartment at Southgate in Scarborough, March 2022.

Lack of snow didn’t stop Westbrook from having their ‘Blizzard Bash’

WESTBROOK, Maine — Despite 60-degree weather and brown grass, Westbrook students were trying to soak up the rest of what’s technically still “winter”.

The Westbrook police department held its annual “Blizzard Bash” where there were games, crafts, pizza and more.

There were supposed to be activities like snowshoeing, but despite the lack of snow it was still a great day for the kids to get out and connect with their community.

Marguerite Waltz, the Resident Service Coordinator of Avesta Housing said, “We call it the blizzard bash but there’s no snow but it’s beautiful weather, we’re happy to be outside.”

Subsidized apartment buildings provide homes for Mainers in need

SOUTH PORTLAND — Maine is in the midst of a housing crisis, but some families in the greater Portland area now have a new place to call home.

Last year, there were four subsidized apartment buildings being built in Portland and South Portland.

Three of them are now open.

“It’s 16 degrees out today,” Shay Dufour, who was formerly homeless, said. “Can you imagine there are some people that can’t even be placed in hotels, that are outside in this right now?”

Dufour has waited a long time for a place to call home.

She now has that after moving into Thornton Heights Commons in South Portland.

“It’s nice to have my own space,” Dufour said. “For 3 years, I’ve been homeless living in hotels, random hotels.”

Maine’s housing crisis is building a growing bipartisan will to find solutions

Auburn Mayor Jason Levesque remembers when he was a kid, riding around with his single mom, imagining what it would be like to live in one of the city’s nicer homes.

Eight years ago, he bought one of their favorites, a stately white colonial perched on a hillside zoned for agriculture and resource protection. Built in 1941, it’s a striking solitary landmark near the Lost Valley Ski Area. It’s also a far cry from the trailer where he grew up.

The zoning saves him about $600 a year in property taxes, he says, but it prevents people from building houses nearby unless they earn at least 30 percent of their income from agriculture. It angers the business consultant and landlord that city policies have perpetuated restrictions on land ownership and housing development that he now sees as exclusionary and detrimental to many residents.

Levesque, a self-described “I bleed red” Republican, is calling out zoning regulations that he says are contributing to a long-simmering housing crisis – one that has grown more acute during the COVID-19 pandemic and spread to every region in Maine. He’s pushing for zoning reform as a way to fight “socioeconomic discrimination” and suburban sprawl, embrace sustainable development and “good growth,” and promote the “progression of Auburn as a city.”

Report suggests changes to local zoning to expand affordable housing

PORTLAND — A surging population and highly-competitive market continues to drive up the cost of housing in Maine.

Despite flurries of developments throughout the state, housing advocates have seen demand far out-pace available supply of affordable units.

“Fundamentally I think what we have in our state is a mismatch of the housing we have is not the housing we need,” said Dana Totman, CEO of non-profit developer Avesta Housing.

Brick Hill Program for children in low-income areas may be here to stay

LEWISTON — The developers behind a proposed senior housing project at the former Martel Elementary School say the project is moving forward after securing key financing.

The proposed 44-unit senior housing redevelopment would reuse the aged school building at 880 Lisbon St., which permanently closed in 2019 before the new Connors Elementary School opened.

Project partners Avesta Housing and Lewiston Housing were among several projects to receive low-income housing tax credits from Maine Housing in 2020, and in 2021 the project received an affordable housing program award from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston.

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.”

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!