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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.

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.

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/.

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.