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/.

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.

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.

New affordable apartment buildings to open in Portland area

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Wessex Woods sets new standard in affordable sustainable housing

Avesta Housing’s newest community is the first of its kind in Maine and a reflection of our commitment to provide housing that is both affordable and sustainable.

For Wessex Woods in Portland, Avesta partnered with CWS Architects of Portland and Zachau Construction of Freeport to utilize the latest in eco-friendly construction that not only addresses current needs but anticipates future needs.

Housing residents ages 55 and older, the building is the first in the state to include CLT (Cross Laminated Timber) in its design. An alternative to masonry, CLT panels consist of layered boards stacked crosswise at 90-degree angles and pressure-glued into place. The panels are lightweight but very strong and are quick and easy to install, which make them especially cost-effective for multistory dwellings.

In addition, the building has an energy recovery ventilation system that imports and circulates outside air to regulate the indoor temperature, and each floor includes two electric heat pump units, resulting in a two-thirds reduction in electrical usage. To reduce the chance of flooding, all rainwater is collected in an underground tank under the parking lot and filtered into a nearby waterway rather than flowing into the city’s stormwater drainage system.

That’s not all—future plans call for the addition of solar panels on the roof (made possible by leftover contingency funds), and conduits are in place under the parking lot so that electric charging stations for vehicles can be installed at a later date if desired.

“The theme of all this is that we are thinking forward to ensure our properties reflect the latest building science and response to climate change challenges,” said Greg Payne, development officer for Avesta Housing.

Interior view of a single-bedroom apartment at Wessex Woods.

Construction on Wessex Woods began in November 2019 and was completed this past March. There are 40 one-bedroom units, of which 34 are affordable housing and six are market-rate units. Portland Housing Authority provided vouchers for eight units.

Amenities include a laundry room, a multipurpose room with wi-fi and a TV monitor, a bike storage room, several raised garden beds for residential use, and a telemedicine room in which residents can conduct virtual appointments with healthcare providers. Located near downtown Portland near Brighton Avenue, Wessex Woods is within walking distance to shopping areas, dining, walking trails, and public transportation.

Of course, a building is not a home without people to live in it. And with the need for affordable housing in Maine at historic levels, demand for Wessex Woods was incredibly high. Normally, it takes six months to fully lease out a new apartment complex; Wessex Woods was leased out in less than three months.

“We had about 900 people who gave us their information before January saying they were interested,” said Emily Pelletier, senior leasing specialist with Avesta Housing. “And of those who were placed in units, only a handful came from another home. Most were living with their children or were homeless and living on the streets.”

With Wessex Woods, Avesta Housing is proud to provide another community that people can call home—now, and for many years to come. But our work is far from done. As long as there is a need for safe, quality, affordable housing, we will strive to provide the means to fulfill that need.

“I have never lived in a community living setting before, but as we continually see new faces, we become familiar with each other. Everyone is so friendly and seem very happy to be here,” said Deb, a resident at Wessex Woods. “I couldn’t have found a more beautiful place to live, and I am extremely grateful for this opportunity.”

The community room at Wessex Woods.

NIMBYism and misguided zoning: Despite need and demand, roadblocks remain

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Racial Equity Pledge

Avesta Housing condemns the acts of violence and injustice against people of color that are currently taking place and that have taken place in the past weeks, months, and years. We recognize that individuals, institutions, and systems have worked against the best interest of people of color in our country for hundreds of years. Racial injustice and violence against people of color in our communities are highlighting how much work we still have to do in this country to ensure that people of all backgrounds are treated fairly, respectfully, and equitably. We are committed to fighting racism and aggressively building racial equity in our organization and community.

As an organization with founding principles grounded in expanding access to safe, affordable housing for people of all backgrounds, Avesta has a demonstrated history of action to address inequities in housing. By extension, and in reflection of our mission and core values, Avesta has a responsibility as a nonprofit organization and a housing provider to use our voice to fight racism in the community at large and within our own organization and residential properties. We have prioritized building racial equity and taking the next steps of self-reflection, learning, growth, action, and change, beginning with an examination of our policies and approaches, in order to achieve racial equity. This is not just a statement; it is a pledge to build racial equity within our organization, within the properties we own and manage, and within the larger community.