WATERVILLE — The cost to rehab a vacant building off College Avenue to provide housing for some of the most vulnerable people in the area is estimated to be $12 million to $15 million, or about $600,000 per apartment, proponents of the project said this week.

Details of the project emerged Monday at a public discussion hosted by the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter to get input on the shelter’s proposal to buy the property at 8 Highwood St. and turn it into 80% housing for seniors and adults with disabilities and their families, and about 20% for emergency housing for the homeless.

The City Council must approve rezoning of the property to allow the project to move forward, and was expected to take the final vote Tuesday night.

Katie Spencer White, the shelter’s president and CEO, explained that the homeless shelter on Colby Street is a low barrier, congregate shelter that allows homeless people who may have a mental illness, criminal backgrounds and substance addiction to stay there. It is not a safe or appropriate setting for families with children, she said.

That is what the Highwood property would be for, and it would be high barrier, meaning that those who live there would be vetted and not allowed if they have criminal records, are sex offenders and so on. They would receive case management and other support and the building would be under staff surveillance 24/7.

The Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter seeks to buy the property at 8 Highwood St. in Waterville and renovate it into apartments for seniors and disabled adults with families, with some emergency units for the homeless. Proponents of the project expect it to cost between $12 million and $15 million. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel file

Much of the country is in a housing crisis and the local shelter, which has supportive apartments for 18- to 24-year-olds on the second level at Colby Street, is trying to help alleviate that crisis locally with an eye toward partnering with other entities to expand housing opportunities.


The shelter has the money to begin the Highwood Street project, including replacing the roof. It is applying for funds from the Maine State Housing Authority and plans to raise money as well. White and other shelter officials say they are confident they will be successful with fundraising.

White said people living in the permanent, supportive housing on Highwood would pay 30% of their income for housing and be supported if, for instance, a tenant runs into a problem such as a job loss or broken-down car that normally could put a person at risk of becoming homeless.

She emphasized that in Waterville, as well as anywhere else in the country, people earning minimum wage cannot afford a one-bedroom apartment because costs have skyrocketed. Housing, she said, is no longer affordable, anywhere.

“People at the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder can’t afford the market rate for housing anymore,” she said. “It doesn’t exist.”

So the shelter wants to ensure that the most vulnerable population doesn’t end up permanently at the homeless shelter, White said.

“Living in a homeless shelter because there’s no place else to go is not what I think we want for our friends and relatives in Waterville,” she said.


Resident and retired engineer Bill Basford said Monday that if one does the math, the 20 apartments for the Highwood project would cost $600,000 each and he asked why that cost is so high.

“The numbers just look ridiculous to me,” he said.

White and the shelter’s building committee chairman, Brian Watson, explained in part that asbestos abatement and likely lead abatement will be be required and building permanent, supportive housing is more costly to build as the people who will be living there have different needs than those in regular housing.

Maine State Housing, Watson said, requires universal accessibility in and out, as well as throughout the building, more than the federal Americans with Disabilities Act requires, as well as adherence to strict energy codes. Windows, insulation and roofing must be at a certain standard and noise attenuation must be up to standards. Furniture, appliances and other items will be included.

Jonathan Rogers, chairman of the shelter’s board of directors, said the board has expertise at every level and has discussed the requirements and standards.

“Believe me, we don’t want to spend any more money than we have to,” Rogers said. “We’re always looking — from the staff to the board level — we’re looking for more ways to be efficient and get more bang for our buck.”


Resident Elizabeth Leonard, a member of the Poor People’s Campaign, noted that it is also more costly than regular housing because of the programs that are included, such as case management. City Councilor Mike Morris, D-Ward 1, where Highwood is located, said it is easy to see why there is a housing problem. No one, he said, is going to put up $600,000 to build an apartment.

“I can’t even speak,” he said. “It is astronomical, the amount of money it costs to build this type of housing.”

White said at one time it cost Habitat for Humanity about $10,000 to $20,000 to buy a lot and then $100,000 to build a house with volunteer labor and other help. But that is no longer the case.

“It’s a challenge now to build a Habitat house for less than $200,000,” she said. “Now you’re talking close to $250,000. The game has changed.”

Shelter officials said they looked at other buildings, including the former Sacred Heart Catholic Church, but it would have been cost-prohibitive to rehabilitate. The Highwood building is owned by Coyote Properties LLC which, according to city records, has a post office box address in New Gloucester. The building has been vacant for about 10 years but previously was offices for HealthReach and many years ago served as housing.

Related Headlines

Comments are no longer available on this story