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!

Artisans in Residence program unlocks talent at 75 State Street

 

When Nancy Chadbourne was a child growing up in Bristol, Maine, her mother told her she could expect to be one of three things: a nurse, a teacher, or a secretary.

“Boy, you don’t know your daughter,” she thought.

From a young age, Nancy craved adventure. Unfortunately, the times weren’t favorable for women seeking adventure. She tried unsuccessfully to join the Army, and roles for women in the workplace were extremely limited. So she did what was expected of her: She married and raised four children.

When the marriage ended more than a decade later, she saw an opportunity to forge a new path and began a long, successful career as a real estate agent in the Boston area. And when she retired, she spent some time traveling the country in an RV.

One day, while walking around a mall in Florida, Nancy noticed an ad for an oil painting class. Although she had already been painting by this time (like many, she had been inspired by the popular TV show “The Joy of Painting” with Bob Ross), she had received no formal training. She thought she would give the class a go, because… well, why not?

That was 25 years ago. Today, Nancy is an accomplished artist who can paint a new piece from start to finish in just a couple of hours. From a small worktable next to her bed in her apartment at 75 State Street, she creates with her brushes, palette knives, and sponges every two to three days. She is so prolific, she gives most of the pieces to family members and friends.

“People can accomplish an awful lot if they want to,” she said recently in her living room, which is decorated from ceiling to floor with her work. “But they have to WANT to.”

Nancy Chadbourne, left, and Ann Jolda discuss a new painting that Nancy is creating.

 

Nancy eventually began teaching art as well as creating it, and when she returned to live at 75 State Street in October (she lived there for about two years before a brief period in Connecticut), she was asked to be part of 75 State Street’s Artisans in Residence program. Trained artists living at the assisted living community teach their craft to other residents in a space designed specifically for this purpose and equipped with art tables and supplies.

The program began four years ago, said activities assistant Ann Jolda, when 75 State Street held an art show of paintings created by residents. The show was so well received, residents requested a formal program through which they could hone their talents. Activities staff manage the program, which includes scheduling classes, organizing supplies and work spaces, and assisting art instructors as needed.

Nancy currently shares teaching duties with sketch artist Lois Chazuad. Some days have open art sessions, during which residents create free-form or practice their lessons from a previous class. Their work is displayed on the walls at 75 State Street and in local galleries; artists receive all proceeds from the work that sells.

The classes do more than teach artistic skills, Ann said: They exercise cognitive abilities, increase self-confidence, and promote camaraderie. Some residents attend the classes just to watch or visit with their friends. “They’re forming a community, which is what we want them to do,” she said.

For some, the classes awaken a latent ability they didn’t know they had. Barry Smith, 84, took his first art class at 75 State Street in 2015. Now he creates landscape paintings for postcards that are sold by Renys, a chain of Maine department stores.

“I never picked up a paint brush until I moved to 75 State Street,” he said.

For Nancy, seeing residents like Barry discover their talents is one of the most enjoyable aspects of teaching in the artisans in residence program. Everyone has it in them to be an artist, she said ­— it just takes determination, persistence, and a lot of practice.

“I really enjoy the reactions of people when they see what they’ve created,” she said. “Just seeing them happy and content with what they’ve done makes it worthwhile.”

Barry Smith works on a new painting for a postcard series.

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.

Community gardens bring residents together

Firmly gripping a handheld square hoe in her right hand, Caroline E. Savage describes what she has planted in her raised garden bed at Motherhouse, a 55-plus Avesta Housing community in Portland.

A couple of tomato plants here. Some kale over there. Rosemary, basil, and dill for flavoring. She’s an artist—a photographer by trade, she explains—and she’s arranged the plants with an artist’s eye.

“It’s a beautiful place to work,” says Savage (pictured above) as she stabs into and turns over the soil, occasionally revealing the palm of her hand. It is evident that this hand has seen many hours at this bed, with dirt creeping under the nails and highlighting the palm print like fine-grained wood after staining.

“It takes effort.” She pauses, then adds: “But it also promotes community.”

With summer in full gear, community gardens at Avesta properties are once again being put to use by residents. Their surface function is obvious: vegetables for eating; ornamental flowers and plants for aesthetic pleasure. But they also serve underlying purposes that are perhaps less obvious.

They provide a place where people can congregate, get to know each other, and work together side by side. They provide a sense of peace and tranquility, especially for those with behavioral health issues. For residents who previously lived in single-family homes, they help in the transition to living in a housing complex, and for former farmers, they offer a chance to continue farming while passing on their knowledge to others.

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More than 50 percent of Avesta properties have a community garden, said Nicholas Kjeldgaard, resident service manager. Some of them were part of the development plan, while others were installed later at residents’ requests. Some are raised beds, some are in-ground beds, and some are simply grow bags. Some are plain; others are festooned with windmills, sculptures, birdhouses, and other decorations. Most are maintained by the residents themselves, although some are managed by neighborhood associations, organizations, or municipalities.

Here are just a few examples:

  • At Pearl Place in Portland, the Bayside Neighborhood Association partnered with the City of Portland to install 12 raised beds, and a member of the BNA is on site for a couple of hours every Wednesday to help residents maintain the gardens.
  • At Sandy Creek in Bridgton, the community’s children helped shovel loam into grow bags and garnered seedling donations from local farms; they now help maintain the grow bags.
  • At Foxwell in Kittery, Avesta has taken a hands-off approach—residents buy all the materials and do everything by themselves.
  • At Motherhouse, members of the property’s residential gardening club manage the garden, with each person responsible for planting and maintaining their own bed.

Despite all the differences, they all have one thing in common: They bring people together.

“One thing I’ve noticed is that there are folks gardening, but there are also non-gardeners bringing over their lawn chairs and sitting in the garden space to enjoy it,” said Heather McIntosh, a resident service coordinator for Avesta. “That’s been really nice to see.”

After all, they’re not called “community” gardens for nothing.

Voter Registration in Affordable Housing

Voter Registration in Affordable Housing

Volunteers from the League of Women Voters, Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center, and Common Power (a national nonprofit focused on voter justice) visited Avesta Housing properties throughout Maine in September and October to help Avesta residents understand the voting process.

Armed with voter registration cards, absentee ballot request forms, and a strong commitment to participatory democracy, volunteers knocked on 1,680 doors over the course of six weeks. In addition to 68 voter registrations and 248 absentee ballot requests, the volunteers spoke directly with 952 Avesta residents about the importance and logistics of making their voices heard in the upcoming election.

Avesta believes strongly in the importance of civic engagement and increasing access for low-income people. Avesta and its partners were committed to a nonpartisan experience that made the voting process accessible to all, regardless of background or political affiliation. Research shows that these efforts are critically important:

  • The Pew Research Center found that 94% of the most financially secure Americans were registered to vote, while only 54% of the least financially secure were registered.
  • Further, the Census Bureau found a strong correlation between income and voter turnout of Americans already registered to vote. Only 25% of registered voters making under $10,000 per year voted. In contrast, families earning $150,000 or more each year have the highest voter turnout, at 57%.
  • According to a Caltech/MIT survey of eligible voters who did not cast a ballot in 2008, structural challenges like busyness, illness, administrative problems with registering (for example, lack of an ID, unsure where to send registration card), and transportation problems created barriers for low-income households.  (Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project, “Measuring Election Performance”, 12/11/2009)

 

By Christine Martin, Avesta Housing Resident Service Coordinator

 

Telehealth Solution for Older Adults Living in Affordable Housing

Avesta is pleased to announce a groundbreaking partnership with Senscio Systems, a Maine-based developer of artificial intelligence solutions for health conditions. We will introduce to residents at select properties Ibis (pronounced eye-biss), a comprehensive solution for at-home health self-management for persons living with complex chronic conditions.

Ibis combines healthcare technology and artificial intelligence, coupled with coaching and integrated health management services, to enable Ibis program members to self-manage their health and build stronger partnerships with their healthcare providers to proactively intervene.

Following care plans prescribed by members’ physicians, the Ibis program notifies the care team to consider interventions based on patient self-assessment data and generates unprecedented actionable insights for the care team about the health of the patient.

Avesta resident service coordinators have been working with Senscio for several years. They have done numerous presentations and demonstrations at many of our properties and have signed up many residents for their telehealth tablet. With residents forced to use telehealth service to access health during the COVID-19 pandemic, we felt it was a good time to try a more targeted approach. We chose four Maine properties to pilot this program: Butler Payson (Portland), Foxwell (Kittery), Kallock Terrace (Saco), and Unity Gardens (Windham). Residents at these properties will be eligible for a device and will receive the following:

  1. A 10” tablet to report daily symptoms like breathing, coughing, pain, and mood.
  2. Medical equipment to monitor vitals like temperature, blood pressure, and oxygen saturation.
  3. A dedicated Ibis physician to create a patient-centered care plan and review health data routinely.
  4. A dedicated Member Advocate to connect residents with community resources.
  5. Coordinated care with residents’ primary care physicians and specialists.

Expanding access to healthcare and promoting positive health outcomes for residents living in our affordable properties are high priorities for Avesta Housing. We look forward to supporting this program and learning how we can best support our residents to navigate healthy living and affordable housing.

 

By Nick Kjeldgaard, Resident Service Manager

 

Nick Kjeldgaard joined Avesta Housing in 2014 as a resident service coordinator after working for several years in the field of international aide. At Avesta, Nick has worked as a resident service coordinator, property manager and Avesta’s 504 Coordinator, and he currently serves as the Resident Service Manager. Nick’s primary reasonability’s include proving leadership to the resident service coordinators, building partnerships with other community nonprofits, and gathering and analyzing data on residents to provide meaningful and measurable programmatic outputs.

Nick is a Certified Occupancy Specialist (COS), a Fair Housing Specialist, and holds a certificate in Conflict Transformation. Nick received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Geography from Bucknell University in 2004, and his Master of Arts degree in Sustainable Development from the School for International Training in 2008.

 

 

Rent Reporting Promotes Financial Stability for Avesta Housing Residents

Having good credit saves people money. It gives them lower interest rates on loans and credit cards and helps make large purchases possible. Many times at Avesta we see people apply for apartments and have absolutely no credit on file. This may be someone who is new to this country or someone who has rented apartments their entire life and has had no reason to take out a loan. This thin credit file prevents them from renting from some landlords or even buying a home in the future.

Avesta Housing has recently teamed up with Experian Rent Bureau to begin reporting positive rent payments to Experian credit bureau. By reporting positive rent payments that people are already making, it helps build their credit by creating a tradeline and showing positive payments. This is a no brainer for us — if you make rent payments on time, why shouldn’t you get credit for it?

In a study by Experian with a sample size of 20,000 subsidized renters, it was found that 95% saw their credit score increase or no change, and at least 53% of the study participants saw an increase of 11 points or more. Most people migrated to less risky credit profiles, leading to potentially lower credit card interest rates. After reporting positive rent payments 97% of these residents were now considered prime or non prime, and most of the “previously no-hit residents transitioned to prime risk segment category.”

Avesta Housing is the first affordable housing provider to offer this service through Experian Rent Bureau in Maine. We’re excited to provide this service to our residents. Helping build and improve credit for people living in affordable housing will lead to financial stability and new opportunities; it will also help residents save money for the future.

 

By Travis Heynen, Director of Housing & Services

 

Travis has worked in Avesta’s Property Management division since 2011. In his current role, he focuses on resident needs and satisfaction, data collection/usage, and new tools and resources. Travis is a champion of low-income people and their quest to achieve financial stability through affordable housing and residents services. A data mastermind and a stickler for detail, Travis uses his keen analytic skills to design effective programs that improve the lives of Avesta residents.

 

 

First Avesta Housing Educational Scholarships Awarded

Dina Malual’s mother and nieces joined her to accept the Avesta Educational Scholarship.

Earlier this year, Dina Malual and her friends started Sudo, a youth group that represents the South Sudanese female voice in Maine. As Dina explains, “We wanted to create a movement which both challenged us intellectually and enabled us to explore our heritage. In the U.S., we are all unified by our South Sudanese heritage. However, in South Sudan, we are often torn apart by tribalism. Sudo uses art as a tool to bring all tribes together as one. Being in the U.S. allows me to break the expectation and inspire young South Sudanese girls, in the U.S. and South Sudan, to seek an education. As for the political state of South Sudan, the conflict is deadly. The largest tribe, of which I am a member of, is in constant war with the second largest tribe. Creating Sudo has increased my desire to go back and change the norms in South Sudan.”

Avesta Housing Resident Service Coordinator Nick Kjeldgaard and Avesta Housing President & CEO Dana Totman present Dina Malual with a $1,000 scholarship.

Dina’s maturity, leadership, and global awareness earned her one of Avesta Housing’s first educational scholarship awards. Avesta awarded Dina $1,000 toward her tuition at Emmanuel College, where she is currently a freshman. Dina says that being an Avesta resident has helped her greatly and that “the diversity in my complex is amazing… I’ve learned the true definition of a community. I’m able to truly understand the value of being a part of something bigger than me. Whether I’m asking my neighbors for milk, or simply saying ‘hi,’ the Avesta community is welcoming. The welcoming feeling has allowed me to help out in my community. My location has allowed me to walk to the basketball court, take my nieces to the park right across the street from my house, and always be in the heart of the city. Having the privilege of living by convenient stores, a playground, and my work, I’ve been truly blessed to walk everywhere and explore what Portland has to offer. Not only has the Avesta community been quick to react to every problem my family has ever had, but they’ve been passionate.”

Pamela Mukiza is a senior at Babson College, where she studies business management with a double concentration in accounting and real estate. She says that living in an Avesta community has broadened her global perspective: “On my street, I am surrounded by so many diverse people from all walks of life. I have been able to talk with and listen to people from all over the world, which has shaped my outlook on life and future plans. It has also helped me to think beyond the United States, and has aspired me to work globally.” Pamela wants to work abroad in emerging markets, and is interested in returning to Africa to help develop DR Congo’s economy.

Pamela Mukiza accepts her educational scholarship.

Pamela was selected for the Avesta Housing Educational Scholarship because of her commitment to her communities, both local and international, and family. When asked how she might affect change in her community, Pamela said, “If I could do anything to change my community in a positive way, I would share my business knowledge that I have accumulated at Babson College and help my neighbors, who are mostly immigrants and refugees, in teaching them some basic financial literacy skills. I would also mentor the kids in my community about the college process, and help them access and obtain the numerous resources out there available to people who aspire to higher education.”

Dina and Pamela were the first recipients of the Avesta Housing Educational Scholarship, and they have set the bar high for future applicants. These bright young women have their eyes focused on building healthy futures for themselves and the communities in which they live.

Renters’ Credit Proposal Would Address Maine’s Most Pressing Housing Problem

 

 

A new proposal recently floated by the Center on Budget & Policy Priorities would tackle the single most pressing housing problem that we encounter at Avesta: a profound lack of affordable homes for extremely low income people.

In January of 2017, 369 households (representing 668 people) came to Avesta seeking an affordable home. Their average annual income was $14,400 and only 25% of them had any kind of rental assistance in hand. Households headed by a senior (age 55+) represented the largest share of these applicants.

In that same month, because turnover is so low and the resources available to build new, affordable apartments are so scarce, we were only able to provide housing to 35 households. And the bottom line? Without the benefit of rental assistance, the best that extremely low income households could get is their name on a waiting list. Of the 35 families we were able to house in January, 27 had rental assistance and the other 8 had incomes averaging nearly twice that of our typical applicants.

In other words, the typical household that comes to us for help in securing an affordable home is almost assuredly not going to get it unless they have the benefit of rental assistance. And only 25% of them do.

It is precisely this problem that the CBPP proposal would address. A new “project-based” renters’ tax credit could help a substantial number of the lowest-income renters — including low-wage workers, poor seniors, and people with disabilities — afford decent, stable housing.

It would help these families afford a home by providing states with credits that they would allocate to rental housing owners and developers for use in particular developments. Families living in renters’ credit units would pay no more than the accepted federal standard of affordability for rent and utilities – 30% of their income – and the rental unit’s owner would receive a federal tax credit in return for reducing the rent to that level.

If funded at a $6 billion level nationally, the proposal would ensure that 3,200 highly vulnerable Maine households – the ones who right now can only put their name on a list and wait – have the basic, safe affordable housing they need.

Such an approach would also help to address a jolting imbalance in current federal housing expenditures, which overwhelmingly benefit high-income homeowners over the low-income renters who have the greatest needs.

Avesta looks forward to working with our partners across the state and the country in helping to give this proposal the public awareness that it – and those we desperately want to help but currently cannot – deserves.


 

By Greg Payne, Development Officer/Coordinator, Maine Affordable Housing Coalition

Laurie’s New Home

Sitting in Laurie’s new apartment with her and two of her three sisters, it’s hard to believe that this photograph of her was from just last month. In this picture, Laurie Rennae is sitting on the front steps of the small apartment building she had been staying in, waiting for her sisters to pick her up. Her face shows the weariness of having spent too much time in an unsafe and overpriced apartment. But there’s a glimmer of hope in there too. It’s moving day. Laurie was moving into a brand new affordable senior apartment building, Ridgewood at Village Square in Gorham, Maine. In fact, Ridgewood was so new that Laurie was the first resident there and lived in the 24-unit building all by herself for two weeks!

Like so many other seniors in Maine, Laurie struggled to find an affordable, safe, quality home. She was bouncing around between friends’ and families’ houses and substandard apartments, but had hit rock bottom in her most recent apartment. This overpriced, second-floor walk-up apartment posed serious mobility issues, and the lack of insulation and heat created dangerous living conditions for Laurie, who suffers from COPD and uses an oxygen tank to assist with her breathing. She ended up in the hospital with pneumonia on numerous occasions because of the living conditions.

Born and raised in Portland, Laurie and her sisters talk fondly about the “good old days,” when they walked from their home on Munjoy Hill to school and sock hops… They remember a Portland from a time when they would walk from one end of town to the other for visits with friends and family. Laurie graduated from Portland High School in 1976 and then entered the working world where she filled numerous positions – cleaning person, office manager, and wellness nurse – to name a few. She proudly recollects the work she did and the people she helped over the years. An independent and hard-working woman, Laurie was able to support herself throughout her life. It wasn’t until her health challenges prevented her from working that living safely and affordably became a significant and life-threatening problem for her.

Laurie’s first day as a Ridgewood resident.

In the spring, Laurie’s living situation became desperate and she came to Avesta Housing for help. Unfortunately, like so many others, Laurie was told that there were no vacancies and that her name would be added to the wait list. With high demand for affordable housing throughout southern Maine, Laurie knew it could take years for an apartment to become available. Then one day in July, Laurie and her sister were driving down Cumberland Avenue in Portland. They were stopped at the red light in front of Avesta’s main office when Laurie received a call from Avesta Property Manager Krissie Bodkin-Rubino. Krissie called Laurie to inform her that an apartment was available in the new building at Ridgewood at Village Square. Laurie explains that she couldn’t stop crying and kept asking Krissie if “this is real.” It all seemed too good to be true.

As Laurie and her sisters take turns telling Laurie’s story, I can’t help but cheer on the inside as she reaches the “happily ever after” part. Her brand new apartment. One sister explains, “My sister has never had brand new. Never. But no matter where she lives, she makes it ‘new,’ because she works hard to clean it up and make it nice.” But finally, she doesn’t have to do all the heavy lifting. The construction of Ridgewood was completed in June. The paint still smells new, the floors are shiny, and all the furniture in the brightly lit community room is pristine. Her first floor apartment is located close to the front door and community room, so despite her limited mobility, she can socialize with her neighbors or step outside for some fresh air. And the best is yet to come.

Avesta Housing has partnered with MaineHealth to bring enhanced healthcare to residents in Laurie’s Village Square community. In this pilot program, a community health nurse employed by MaineHealth visits Village Square monthly to provide onsite access to basic healthcare education, consultation, and care.

Additionally, Ridgewood has a private wellness room with telehealth technology. An expanded program building on the nursing pilot to provide more comprehensive care for patients identified as high risk is anticipated to launch in October. Laurie looks forward to engaging in these healthcare services to increase her access to healthcare and improve her health. In the meantime, Laurie gives me a relieved smile and assures me, “I’m ok here. I’m safe.” Welcome home, Laurie.

 

Join Laurie and other Ridgewood residents at a grand opening event to celebrate the new senior affordable housing with a focus on healthcare. The event is open to the public and will take place on Thursday, October 20 from 10:00am-12:00pm. The address is 8 Millett Drive, Gorham, Maine.