West End Apartments II

An architect’s rendering of the 52-unit West End Apartments II, the second phase of a mixed-income project that Avesta Housing plans to build on Westbrook Street in South Portland, with commercial space on the ground floor. Kaplan Thompson Architects

SOUTH PORTLAND — Avesta Housing is just about to start building the 64-unit West End Apartments I on Westbrook Street and it’s already lining up funding to add 52 units right next door.

West End Apartments II has been awarded $800,000 in low-income federal housing tax credits, an allocation with an equity value of $7 million toward the estimated $12.5 million project, the Maine State Housing Authority announced Monday.

The rapidly expanding development of the mixed-use, mixed-income housing project validates the city’s decision to rezone the West End neighborhood to promote village-style, pedestrian-friendly development.

But South Portland’s award-winning planning effort addresses only a small portion of a growing need for affordable workforce housing across the state, said Tyler Norod, a development officer with Avesta.

“A couple of years ago, this wouldn’t have been a viable project,” Norod said. “This is going to be a transformative project for this neighborhood, but we are not keeping up with demand.”

Members of the Maine Real Estate Managers Association reported that 32,000 households are waiting for affordable housing, said Greg Payne, director of the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition.

Meanwhile, the number of Maine households waiting for federal rental assistance has risen from 18,000 to 20,000 in recent years, many of them seniors, according to MaineHousing, the state authority.

Maine faces tough challenges in making sure people have safe, affordable housing, largely because it has both the oldest population and the oldest housing stock in the nation, Payne said.

Yet, on average, only 214 new units of affordable housing have been built here annually in the last six years, according to MaineHousing data.

“The West End Apartment project is great and totally inadequate to meet what is a huge need,” said Payne, who also is a development officer at Avesta.

Progress is being made, Payne said.

By the end of the year, MaineHousing is expected to announce the recipients of a voter-approved $15 million bond package for senior housing, which former Gov. Paul LePage held up for three years, but Gov. Janet Mills recently released.

And the Legislature is considering L.D. 1645, a bill that would create the Maine Affordable Housing Tax Credit, which would cover about one-third of housing development costs. It would cost Maine taxpayers $10 million per year for 10 years and increase affordable housing production by 50 percent per year for eight years, Payne said.

An estimated $28 million project overall, West End Apartments I & II will add a total of 90 subsidized and 26 market-rate apartments to the rental market in South Portland.

The project site on Westbrook Street is near the Maine Mall, in an area with several apartment complexes, including Redbank Village, but few neighborhood amenities. In 2017, the City Council approved zoning changes intended to promote village-style development that would encourage walking, biking, gathering and hiking in the neighborhood.

West End Apartments I

An architect’s rendering of the 64-unit West End Apartments I, the first phase of a mixed-income project that Avesta Housing plans to build on Westbrook Street in South Portland, with commercial space on the ground floor. Kaplan Thompson Architects

Last summer, volunteers and others upgraded nearby wooded trails. In November, city voters agreed to spend $1.4 million to build a multi-use path along Westbrook Street and beneath Interstate 295 that will more safely connect West End residents to the public schools and library annex on Westcott Road.

While all the West End Apartments will have identical finishes, rent for a two-bedroom unit would be $1,000 subsidized or $1,300 market rate, Norod said.

To be eligible for subsidized rent, households would earn less than 60 percent of area median annual income, which is as much as $28,000 for an individual or as much as $55,000 for a family of four, he said.

Site work for West End Apartments I, at 586 Westbrook St., is expected to start within days, Norod said. The $15.5 million project received $980,000 in low-income federal housing tax credits, which has an equity value of $8.5 million. When completed in the spring of 2021, the first-floor storefronts will include Le Variety, a restaurant, and The Hub social service center.

Construction of West End Apartments II, at 600 Westbrook St., could start soon after financing is completed and possibly before the first phase is completed, Norod said. Its first-floor storefronts would include retail and community meeting space.

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