|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!
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 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.”
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Buses are rumbling down the streets and school bells are ringing. It’s official… back to school for kids all over Maine and New Hampshire this week! As they don their backpacks and lace up their sneakers, we wish everyone a great school year filled with fun and learning.
Students: expand your knowledge, make new friends, try new things, and be the best you you can be. Teachers: Thanks for all you do every day to support your students. And to the nearly 500 school-age children who live in Avesta Housing communities: we’re rooting for you!
We caught up with a few Avesta kids earlier in the week and asked them about school. And while they all shared great excitement for going back to school, their reasons varied:
Ariane, 7th grade: I love school because it gives me new opportunities to learn. I love doing new science experiments, playing flute, and singing in the choir.
Yohanita, 4th grade: I like hanging out with my teacher and learning math. I want to learn more about science and math so I can be a great student.
Gwen, 1st grade: I like going outside for recess and playing on the playground. We get to go to the art room every Wednesday, and I love to paint!
So whether you are hopping on a bus, driving, walking, or bicycling your way there, have a great school year!
1. Look through your belongings and get rid of anything you have not used or worn in the past two years, because chances are you will not need it in the future. This is a great time to donate your items to a local shelter or second-hand store. This is also a great time to go through your cupboards and throw out any old spices and canned/packaged food that have expired. Get rid of any furniture that may not fit in your new place.
2. Pack a box of essential items that you will need immediately when you move into your new place (important paperwork, phone numbers to local utility companies, a few cooking utensils, and dishes). Pack one room at a time and clearly mark these boxes. Pack the kitchen and bathroom last as these are the rooms and items you will be utilizing until the day you move.
3. Change your address at the post office, doctors’ offices, utility companies, schools, places of employment, the bank, pharmacy, and any other companies you do business with.
4. Meet with your new landlord to walk through the apartment. Take measurements and have a plan of where you want furniture to go. Look over your lease carefully and take your time to review it with the landlord. Have the landlord do a pre-inspection of the apartment with you and write down anything that needs to be fixed or changed before you start moving in.
5. Have movers or friends and family lined up to help you the day you move. Assign people jobs (last minute packing, carrying heavy items, driving the vehicles, someone to entertain the kids etc.). Have someone picking up food/coffee for your volunteers! It’s a great way to repay them and keep them motivated.
Lastly remember to take your time unpacking and decorating. This is your new home and you want to feel comfortable and relaxed when you walk through the door. Welcome home!
The job interview: potentially one of the most dreaded – but necessary – events of our adult lives. But beyond an hour in “the hot seat,” interviews can – and should – be an interactive process. You are getting to know the company as much as they are getting to know you. The reality is that an interview is a chance to get in the door. Obviously, the employer saw something in your resume and cover letter that made them want to get to know you more. Now is your chance to get to know them too. Here are some basic tips to help you get through the interview and land the job:
- Do your homework. Understand the job you’re applying for and what the company wants. Do some research on who they are: what are their core values? Do they have a mission statement? This will help you tailor your responses to the company and help convince them that you’re the best candidate for the job.
- Dress for the job. Make every attempt to look as presentable as possible. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to show up wearing a suit and tie, but do dress for the job. For more service-oriented or production positions, for example, a suit may not be your best option. For professional or office positions, go dressier. Jeans are typically a little too casual for any interview – try khakis instead. Avoid short skirts and tank tops altogether.
- Be nice to the receptionist. Best case, this person is going to be your new coworker – don’t start out on the wrong foot. Realistically, the chances are the interviewer is going to find out how your interaction with the receptionist went and this could impact your chances of getting the job.
- It’s ok to be nervous. Most interviewees are, and recruiters understand that. In this case, honesty can be your best option: let the interviewers know that you’re nervous. From a recruiter’s standpoint, it can be better to have someone who is nervous than someone who is cocky. Try to relax and engage in the interview!
- Sell yourself. Your resume got you in the door, but now you need to convince them that you’re the best person for the job. Be confident. You know you can do the job. Try giving examples when you answer questions: this will tell the interviewers more about you and your abilities than just a yes or no answer. For example, if they ask, “How do you deal with difficult customers,” tell them about a particularly challenging situation that you handled well (don’t get too caught up in the details – they just want to hear how you dealt with it successfully).
- Be prepared with questions. Most interviews end with, “Do you have any questions for us?” The recruiter wants to know if you have thought about the job and are engaged – this is your opportunity to show that you are. While you might think of additional questions during the interview, it’s always best to come prepared with some just in case. Even generic questions like, “What do you like best about working here?” or “What would you say are the top three characteristics one needs to succeed in this job?” show that you are interested. That said, be wary of wording. Instead of asking, “What will I be doing?,” try asking, “What does a typical day/week/month look like for this position?” Some recruiters don’t mind if you ask about pay, but definitely don’t make that your first (or worse, only) question.
- It’s your interview too. This is your chance to get to know your boss before you start working there. Find out if s/he is someone you can actually work with, or if his/her supervisory style will drive you crazy (another potential question to ask, “How would your direct reports describe your supervisory style?”). You could find out that the position has extremely high turnover and they typically have to hire new people every month – are you going to be able to work in an environment like that? An interview where they don’t even allow you to ask questions could be a red flag, for example: it could mean that they really don’t care what you think. Take this opportunity to figure out if you actually want the job, or if you could actually see yourself working there. This is where those questions are essential!
Finally, keep in mind: the people interviewing you all sat in that same seat at one point. They’re human too, and they probably dislike interviewing for new jobs just as much as you. In the end, the interview is just a conversation you are having to find out more about each other. Take this opportunity to put your best foot forward and land the job you deserve!
Explaining Increasing Escrow: With 2016 just around the corner, many families are looking at their budgets for next year and wondering how the mortgage payment will fit into their finances. Did your mortgage payment increase even though you have a fixed-rate mortgage? That’s because of an increased escrow payment. With any mortgage, there are two reasons why your escrow could increase:
Your monthly mortgage payment includes more than just the principal and interest on your loan. It also includes money that goes into an escrow account that pays your property taxes and homeowners insurance. It is completely normal for your mortgage payment to go up a little bit every year as property taxes increase. Some of the increase that you’re seeing on your 2016 mortgage payments is simply your mortgage company anticipating that your taxes will rise, and trying to adjust your payment to make sure that your escrow account will have the funds to pay the taxes.
- Increase Due to Escrow Shortage
The reason why our payments are going up more than we are used to is because the mortgage companies underestimated the amount that our property taxes would increase in 2015. Because the mortgage companies underestimated, the escrow payments that we made during this past year were not enough to pay all of our 2015 property taxes. This is called an “escrow shortage.”
For the sake of explanation, let’s say that you paid $3,000 a year in property taxes in 2014, and that you’re mortgage company assumed that you’d pay $3,400 in 2015. This would increase your mortgage payment by $33.33 a month in 2015. But what if you mortgage company underestimated the amount that you had to pay? Let’s say that you actually had to pay $3,900 in 2015, so you actually should have been paying $75 a month more. Now that 2015 is over, you’ve underpaid $41.67 per month for 12 months, leaving your escrow account $500 short.
Obviously, you still need to pay this money. Your mortgage company with give you the option to pay it all as one lump sum, or to spread the amount over your 12 payments in 2016, causing your mortgage payments for 2016 to rise $41.67 in addition to whatever the regularly yearly rise will be.
The combination of making up the shortage and adding in the estimated increase for 2016 could potentially add up to quite a bit of money for some homeowners. It’s important that you know that Avesta’s HomeOwnership Center can help you figure out how to make ends meet with your increased housing costs.
We can help you come up with a plan to get through the next year of higher payments. We also know about money saving tips, like the Homestead Exemption and energy saving ideas that can help decrease your monthly costs.
307 Cumberland Avenue
Portland, ME 04101
Toll free: 800-339-6516 (voice/TTY)
Hours: Monday- Friday – 8:30-4:30
Appointments are available by request.
If you require assistance in filling out your application, please call: 207-553-7777 to schedule an appointment.
NEW HAMPSHIRE OFFICE
4 Meeting Place Drive
Exeter, NH 03833
Toll free: 800-339-6516 (voice/TTY)
Hours: By appointment only