AUGUSTA — Organizers of a housing forum Tuesday are looking for input as they seek to address the city’s lack of affordable housing and aging housing stock.
Amanda Bartlett, executive director of the Augusta Housing Authority, said the lack of affordable housing in the city is a near-crisis situation. She wants the authority to play a larger role in improving local housing beyond distributing federal Section 8 housing vouchers to low-income residents in the Augusta area.
“Everywhere I go people are saying it’s time we do something to address the housing issues facing Augusta,” Bartlett said Monday. “I have met many people who have great ideas about how to do that. This forum provides a perfect opportunity, where everyone who has an issue or an idea can come share their stories and visions for the future of housing in Augusta.”
Over the last year, 65 rental housing units were lost in Augusta, some to fires and others because they were shut down by the city for safety code violations. That has made housing for lower-income residences in especially short supply in Augusta, Bartlett said.
Bartlett wants the quasi-municipal Augusta Housing Authority, which now primarily focuses on administering the Section 8 voucher program in the area, to expand its role by potentially getting into developing, rehabilitating, building and/or owning housing units.
City officials have said they would welcome the local housing authority playing a more active role in addressing housing needs, and the authority could tap into grants and other funding sources to help pay for housing projects.
The forum is hosted jointly by the Augusta Housing Authority and city of Augusta.
“It’s an opportunity to learn and hear about housing needs in the Augusta area,” said Mayor William Stokes. “And also share ideas about future housing plans, proposals and concepts we, and the Augusta Housing Authority, might employ (to improve) the housing stock in the city.”
The forum starts at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday and is scheduled to continue until 8:30 p.m. in council chambers at Augusta City Center. Presentations begin at 6 p.m., with refreshments at 5:30 p.m.
Presenters are expected to include Margaret Bean, deputy director of Maine State Housing Authority, and representatives from Bread of Life Ministries, Sprague and Curtis Real Estate and Capital Area Housing Association. Frank O’Hara, a consultant with Planning Decisions, will facilitate the forum.
Bartlett hopes Tuesday’s forum will draw landlords, tenants, public officials, real estate agents, officials of charitable organizations and any others with an interest, in helping to address the shortage of affordable housing.
“It is important that we get attendance that represents all facets of our community from landlords, renters, homeowners, lenders, developers, advocates,” Batlett said. “We encourage everyone to come out and be a part of the conversation.”
According to MaineHousing statistics, the average monthly rent for a two bedroom apartment in Augusta, with utilities included, is $744. To be able to pay that amount of rent, a tenant would need an annual income of $29,763, according to a formula used by MaineHousing, a statewide housing finance agency.
Yet the median household income of renters in Augusta is only $23,878, which would make that household only able to afford monthly rent and utilities of $595.
Bartlett said the data shows nearly 60 percent of Augusta renters are not able to afford the average, two-bedroom rent of $744.
There is a waiting list of about 675 people seeking Section 8 federal housing vouchers from the Augusta Housing Authority. But Bartlett said even with people waiting to get vouchers, last year 11 families gave up their vouchers, because they couldn’t find a rental unit in Augusta that met Section 8 requirements.
Some housing authorities in other Maine communities play more direct roles than Augusta’s has over the last several years. In Bangor, for example, the Bangor Housing Development Corp., the development wing of Bangor Housing Authority, plans to add 34 apartments in new and rehabilitated buildings in that city this year.
The Augusta Housing Authority’s jurisdiction includes Augusta and all towns within 10 miles. About 85 percent of its clients live within the city of Augusta.
Keith Edwards – firstname.lastname@example.org