SOUTH PORTLAND — Avesta Housing submitted a much-anticipated proposal to city planners Thursday for a 64-unit housing project that would be built in the city’s West End neighborhood and target mostly low-income families.

The five-story West End Apartments would be built at 586 Westbrook St., site of Le Variety and the West End Neighborhood Resource Hub, and would include ground-level commercial space for both the convenience store and the social services agency, according to Avesta’s application.

The $13 million project is being developed in collaboration with store owner and entrepreneur Quang Nguyen of Portland, who purchased a small parcel next door last summer because he wanted Avesta to build housing on the combined properties.

City officials also helped to pave the way for the project, driven in part by their desire to focus some attention on the long-neglected neighborhood and their concern about the lack of affordable rental housing in Greater Portland.

In June, Nguyen got an $86,000 mortgage at 5 percent interest from the city’s Housing Revolving Loan Fund, which he used to buy the lot next door. And in October, the City Council approved new zoning that’s intended to create a village-like neighborhood core along Westbrook Street by allowing mixed-use buildings such as West End Apartments.

Nguyen has agreed to sell the combined 1-acre property to Avesta for an undisclosed sum, according to Avesta’s application. In return, Nguyen would be granted ownership of a 4,000-square-foot condominium in the proposed building for the store, which would be expanded to include a dine-in café area.

“The cafe will be in the storefront, with tables in the windows, looking out to the street,” Nguyen said. “The store and the café will be a place for the neighborhood to gather. I think the whole project is going to be great for us, for the neighborhood and for the city. It’s meant to be.”

AFFORDABLE RENTS, SHARED SPACES

The resource hub, which is staffed by The Opportunity Alliance and housed in a two-room trailer provided by the city, also would have first-floor space, along with community areas to be shared by apartment dwellers. The building would include 22 studio apartments and 16 one-bedroom, 16 two-bedroom and 10 three-bedroom apartments.

“The majority of the units will be reserved for low-income households with some market-rate units mixed in,” said Tyler Norod, Avesta’s project manager. “At least 50 percent of the affordable units will be for families.”

About 80 percent of the apartments would be reserved for renters who earn 50 percent to 60 percent of median household income, which is $54,598 in South Portland, according to the U.S. Census. About 20 percent of the units would be offered at the lower end of market rate, Norod said.

West End Apartments would help Avesta make a dent in demand for affordable rental housing that it sees among its 80 properties and 2,400 units in Maine and New Hampshire. In September, the Portland-based nonprofit had a waiting list of 2,077 households in need of affordable housing, according to Avesta’s latest activity report.

The project would be Avesta’s fourth in the West End, preceded by the 66-unit Brick Hill Townhomes, built in 2005; the 43-unit Brick Hill Cottages, built in 2006; and the 30-unit Brick Hill Heights, built in 2008.

The ethnically diverse and growing neighborhood near the Maine Mall includes several other market-rate and senior housing complexes, most notably Redbank Village.

STATE FINANCING NEEDED

Norod said the project is designed to improve human connections in the West End community and give neighbors a space to meet and interact. Nguyen’s store already attracts customers from throughout the neighborhood and beyond, including many who are drawn by the authentic Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches and pho soups made by his uncle, Anthony Le, who runs the store.

“There will be wide sidewalks allowing for space for outdoor seating by the café and benches for sitting in the new plaza in front of Opportunity Alliance’s space,” Norod said.

Avesta has secured financing through the Northern New England Housing Investment Fund, which has agreed to cover 57 percent of the project’s costs by investing $7.1 million in exchange for a 99.99 percent limited partnership interest, according to Avesta’s application. Avesta also plans to seek $797,500 in federal low-income housing tax credit funding through the Maine State Housing Authority.

The project is scheduled for site plan review with the Planning Board on Dec. 12, said Tex Haeuser, city planning director. If approved that night, Avesta would be able to meet a Feb. 8 deadline to apply to receive state funding in 2018.

Construction would start late next summer or early fall and take about one year, during which time The resource hub would be located elsewhere and Le Variety would close, Norod said. Nguyen said he’s considering operating a food truck during the year that the store is closed, to satisfy customers who are fans of its Vietnamese cuisine.

City officials would expect to coordinate planned road and streetscape improvements that are scheduled to be done next summer on Westbrook Street, Haeuser said.

The resource hub, which provides a variety of services and referrals for everything from food insecurity and job counseling to language classes and legal assistance, would occupy a 750-square-foot space and have access to the building’s community room and public bathrooms. The city would pay $937 per month for the space, but reduced financing arrangements are being considered.

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: KelleyBouchard