AUGUSTA — The Augusta Housing Authority has modified plans to build affordable housing for those 55 or older near its existing Hodgkins School Apartments, shrinking the proposal from 25 buildings spread over a ballfield to a single, 34-unit apartment building.

The change would leave a significant swath of green space, and access routes to nature trails would be largely untouched.

Some of the site’s neighbors said the project would still take too much of the green space they love.

Some also said they fear a 34-unit building could bring too much change to the quiet neighborhood, and that rushing to approve such a development without adequate planning or a comprehensive view could be a mistake.

Amanda Olson, executive director of the quasi-municipal Augusta Housing Authority, first presented the altered Malta Street development proposal to city councilors last week. It is one of three housing proposals the authority hopes to build on city-owned land at a time when affordable housing is hard to find, especially for people who receive rental assistance and are left to sleep in tents or cars or at homeless shelters.

Olson said studies show the Augusta area needs another 449 family housing units and 424 senior citizen housing units, and rental housing is in such short supply that rents have skyrocketed to the point they are not affordable to many working people and those receiving Section 8 housing vouchers.

The projects Olson presented to Augusta councilors last week, in addition to another authority development proposed on Park Street, would add about 100 units, addressing only about 11% of the need, Olson said.

“The shortage has increased rents exponentially in our community,” Olson said. “Where we used to see two-bedroom units for $750, $800, $850 a month, it’s now very typical to see two bedrooms renting for $1,600 a month.”

The result, Olson said, is housing vouchers can be used and people earning even an average wage cannot afford the rentals that are available. This had led more people to sleep in cars or tents or at shelters, Olson said, because of “a complete lack of affordable housing inventory in the community.”

Councilors could vote Thursday on whether to strike a long-term lease deal with the Augusta Housing Authority for the city-owned land next to the Hodgkins site on Malta Street.

Several neighbors of the property met with Olson and city officials at a special City Council meeting Sunday morning at the site, where Olson said the authority altered the project after it heard from neighbors that the previously proposed project of 25 stand-alone residences built on a large ballfield there took too much of the green space there. The development was consolidated into a single, three-story apartment building with 34 units that would be built on a smaller softball field behind the existing Hodgkins School Apartments.

“This would change the character of that area. The proposal now is to build a three-decker, 34-unit building on a playing field and that will, in my opinion, really take away from the neighborhood,” said Cornelia Brown, who lives nearby on Quimby Street. “This is a beautiful, safe, residential neighborhood, with an existing field and green space. To dump another 34-unit building there, I think, is poor planning.”

Brown also expressed concern that if the proposed building were added, the authority could put in additional buildings on the rest of what is now green space.

Ward 2 City Councilor Kevin Judkins, whose ward includes the Malta Street site, said he has had a number of constituents express concerns about the loss of green space and the impact on nature and cross-country running trails that go through part of the site. He said he suspected that perception is mostly based on the original plan, and suggested working to spread the word to neighbors about the revised proposal.

“This is a tremendous blend of good use of green space, preserving what you can but still getting a decent number of units on it,” Judkins said to Olson. “I think you’ve done a great job, but I’d like it to be transparent. I’d like the neighborhood to have the opportunity to have their voice about this, before we step ahead.”

The project would rely on state and federal low-income housing tax credits, the application for which has to be ready for January. Olson said she thought the application would have a good chance of winning funding in the competitive process. If that funding were obtained, the project could go to the Augusta Planning Board for review in April and, if that is successful, construction could begin in June 2023 and be completed by June 2024.

The units would be rented to those who meet income guidelines and make less than 60% of the area’s median income. A family of two would be restricted to a maximum annual income of $34,400. Rent there would be about $800 for a one-bedroom unit.

The stand-alone building design the Augusta Housing Authority initially proposed for the Malta Street site, which featured sustainably built homes designed by the University of Maine at Augusta architecture students, could find a home at another of the authority’s proposed developments, at 597 Riverside Drive, on land the city acquired due to a previous owner not paying taxes on it.

Olson said the authority hopes to have eight, roughly 600-square-foot rental homes built there, also targeting people 55 or older.

The authority also hopes to buy the current Augusta Police Station on Union Street, and renovate it into about 30 housing units, while continuing to operate the Augusta Housing Authority’s offices there.

Voters approved $20.5 million in bond funding to build a new police station at the site of the former Hannaford site on Willow Street, and the Augusta Housing Authority has offered the city $650,000 to buy the current police station building.

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