The Working Waterfront

Portland to sell building to island group

Affordable Peaks Island apartment plan moves forward

By Clarke Canfield
Posted 2023-06-20
Last Modified 2023-06-20

An affordable housing advocacy group has unveiled renderings of a building with three apartments that it plans to have constructed and occupied by next June on Peaks Island.

Home Start, a nonprofit dedicated to expanding the pool of affordable housing on Peaks, has entered into a purchase-and-sales agreement with the city of Portland for a former parish hall once owned by St. Christopher’s Church on Central Avenue, said Betsey

Remage-Healey, president of Home Start. The organization still has to take steps to secure funding, but has received detailed plans on what the building will look like.

Remage-Healey said it’s vital for Peaks to have affordable housing to ensure it remains a year-round community where people who grew up or work on the island can afford to stay, raise families, and keep the school alive and well.

“If we don’t have affordable housing, it just becomes an enclave of wealthy folks who can afford the ever-rising costs of housing on the island,” she said.

Home Start was founded in 2008 with the goal of expanding the affordable housing stock on Peaks, where home prices have soared in recent years. It purchased a house on Luther Street more than a decade ago and worked with another nonprofit organization, Volunteers of America, to build and manage two homes on an adjacent lot. Home Start sold the Luther Street home last year and is using the proceeds from that sale toward the purchase of the former parish hall and construction of the new apartments.

Home Start has been working with Backyard ADUs, a modular housing company in Brunswick, on a design for a one-story structure with solar panels on the roof and apartments that will rent for below-market prices.

“If we don’t have affordable housing, it just becomes an enclave of wealthy folks who can afford the ever-rising costs of housing on the island,”

After looking at different options, the Home Start board voted in May to demolish the existing building, rather than renovate it, and have Backyard ADUs construct the new building with three apartments, each with a separate entrance. Two of the apartments will have two bedrooms that will rent for $2,012 a month, and one will have three bedrooms that rents for $2,324. The rental rates are no more than 80% of the average rent in the Greater Portland area based on a formula from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Remage-Healey said.

Home Start planned to apply for a zero-interest forgivable loan by the end of June through the Affordable Housing Initiative for Maine Islands, a program administered by Maine Housing. It also plans to seek smaller amounts of funding for the project from the city of Portland’s Jill Duson Housing Trust Fund and the Peaks Island Fund, which is administered by the Maine Community Foundation.

Remage-Healey said Home Start has agreed to pay the city what’s due in back taxes—probably around $35,000 or so—on the building when the purchase is finalized after it secures funding. A family bought the parish hall from the church years ago, she said, but it was taken over by the city for back taxes.