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.

Dana Totman announces retirement from Avesta Housing

Dana Totman has announced his retirement as president and CEO of Avesta Housing, effective later this year.

A lifelong Mainer, Totman has served as president and CEO for nearly 22 years, during which the nonprofit affordable housing organization has undergone tremendous growth. Under his leadership, the number of staff has increased from 60 to 300, affordable homes in the Avesta portfolio have increased from 700 to 3,200, and assets have increased from $60 million to $350 million. He has been integral in the creation of multiple statewide affordable housing bonds, the formation of the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition, and the creation of the first Housing First communities in Maine.

As Avesta Housing celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, it does so as the largest nonprofit affordable housing provider in northern New England. It is a leader in advocacy, real estate development, property management and resident services, residential care and assisted living, and financial counseling and education.

Totman said these factors played heavily in his decision to retire.

“It’s never easy to know the perfect time to step back from a role like mine, but what crystallizes it for me is knowing Avesta is stronger than ever. Avesta is at its pinnacle and primed for the next leader to take it further and higher than before,” Totman said. “This milestone year symbolizes a half century of community impact through affordable housing. It also feels like the fitting time for me to step down and pass the reins to a new leader to launch this organization into the next 50 years.”

Totman has been a highly respected leader in the nonprofit sector and a tireless advocate for safe, quality, affordable housing in Maine and New Hampshire for decades. For his hard work and dedication, he has received many well-deserved accolades and awards over his tenure.

“Over Dana’s career, few people have done more to advance the cause of affordable housing, particularly in Maine. Dana’s deep belief in Avesta’s mission and his compassion for the most vulnerable among us have been an inspiration to many,” said Jonathan Culley, chair of the Avesta Housing Board of Directors. “The Avesta Housing Board of Directors is extremely grateful for the incredible work that Dana has done to advance the organization while always staying true to our mission to improve lives and strengthen communities.”

A search for the next president/CEO will begin in the coming months. Totman will stay through summer 2022 to lead the organization and support the search for his replacement.

After-school program launched

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.”

Former Martel school redevelopment inches closer to reality

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.

Group calls for sweeping changes to cut through red tape stopping Maine housing projects

PORTLAND (WGME) — The need for more housing is a crisis that’s only become worse during the pandemic.

Maine officials are now looking to cut the red tape that can hold back housing projects.

First phase of Lewiston’s Choice Neighborhoods redevelopment moves ahead

LEWISTON, Maine — The first phase of construction for Lewiston’s Choice Neighborhoods initiative is closer to reality after receiving additional funding.

The city and its development partners, including Avesta Housing, were awarded MaineHousing tax credits toward the first of three major sites — a 74-unit mixed-income development between Pine, Walnut, Bartlett and Pierce streets.

Avesta awarded almost $20 million in equity and subsidy funding

Avesta has been awarded two 9% Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) awards and four Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston Affordable Housing Program (AHP) awards. This represents almost $20 million in equity and subsidy funding that will help build much-needed affordable housing in Maine.

The developments that received awards are:

  • Village Commons in Scarborough (9% LIHTC and AHP awards), which will create 31 affordable apartment homes for ages 55 and older.
  • Choice Wedgewood Block in Lewiston (9% LIHTC and AHP awards), a mixed-income community comprised of 74 affordable and market-rate apartment homes. Choice Wedgewood Block will constitute the first phase of housing built as a part of the Choice Lewiston initiative. The property will be developed by Avesta and owned and managed by Lewiston Housing Authority.
  • Martel School in Lewiston (AHP award), rendering pictured above, a combination of new construction and conversion of a former school that will be comprised of 44 affordable apartment homes for ages 62 and older. The property will be developed by Avesta and owned and managed by Lewiston Housing Authority.
  • Choice Dewitt in Lewiston (AHP award), which will be a mixed-income community comprised of 71 apartment homes. Choice Dewitt will constitute the second phase of the Choice Lewiston initiative. It will be developed by Avesta and owned and managed by Lewiston Housing Authority.

Former Avesta employee and board member becomes first Somali-American mayor in U.S.

Somalia was on the verge of civil war when Deqa Dhalac fled the capital city of Mogadishu 31 years ago and began her journey to become the first Somali-American mayor in the United States.

On December 6, 2021, she was formally seated as the top elected leader of Maine’s fourth largest city. Her latest accomplishment was the subject of a joyous phone conversation on Sunday with her mother, who still lives in Mogadishu.

Commission: Eliminating single-family zoning among ways to increase housing opportunity

Recommendations from the Commission to Increase Housing Opportunities in Maine by Studying Zoning and Land Use Restrictions include eliminating single-family zoning, allowing in-law apartments as a matter of right and removing municipal growth caps.

Avesta receives $75K grant for affordable housing pre-development

Avesta Housing has received a $75,000 grant from the Five Together Foundation to address the affordable housing crisis in the state.

Established in 2005, the Five Together Foundation supports initiatives in youth leadership and development, services to families in need, and preservation of American democracy. The grant will provide Avesta with the means to cover pre-development costs such as land identification and acquisition, feasibility and site assessment, and schematic design for four affordable housing properties in Maine. When completed, these properties will add an additional 200 affordable homes to Avesta’s portfolio and house 350 to 400 people.

“Affordable housing doesn’t spring up overnight,” said Avesta President and CEO Dana Totman. “There are many things that have to happen before the first shovelful of dirt is moved, and all of them demand considerable time and resources. This grant will help us do the preparation work necessary to move forward to the construction phase.”

Avesta Housing has been a leader in providing safe, quality, affordable housing for almost 50 years. In those five decades, the need for affordable housing has never been greater than right now.

The record-breaking real estate market has severely depleted the housing stock for both home buyers and renters, and what remains is out of reach for people of low to moderate income. Many who were on the verge of being unhoused before the COVID-19 pandemic are now without homes or are perilously close to the brink.

“We had an affordable housing problem before the pandemic,” Totman said. “The pandemic has thrown gasoline on the fire.”

Avesta Housing has more than 3,000 affordable housing units, and more than 600 units are in the pre-development or construction stages. But it’s still not enough to meet the need. The number of inquiries for affordable housing with Avesta is almost 7 times greater than the number of available units. The Five Together grant will help provide Avesta with additional resources to address that need.