PORTLAND — Two projects aimed at improving housing options for low-income families and senior citizens have received a financial shot in the arm.

MaineHousing this month awarded $812,500 in tax credits to the Portland Housing Authority to redevelop its 48-year-old Front Street property, a project that will entail temporarily relocating residents. The housing authority also received $450,500 in tax credits to rehabilitate 46-year-old Washington Gardens. Both properties cater to households making no more than 60% of the area’s median income, which is $39,060 for an individual and $55,800 for a family of four.

The tax credits are awarded to housing developers, who in turn sell them to private investors to generate revenue for their projects.

“They often mean if a project moves forward or not. They really are that important,” said Jay Waterman, Portland Housing Authority’s real estate development director. “They are a big piece of the financing for projects.”

MaineHousing chose the two Portland projects and three others from among 15 applications to share in $3.8 million in tax credits it awarded earlier this month.

The funding, Waterman said, will help Portland Housing Authority redevelop the Front Street property, which was constructed in 1971, in part to house people who were displaced from their homes when Franklin Arterial (now Franklin Street) was constructed as part of Portland’s period of urban renewal.

“We have a lot of public housing that is in need of major renovations or, in the case of Front Street, is really obsolete and needs to be torn down,” Waterman said.

The plan, which received Planning Board approval in November 2018, includes razing the property’s 50 affordable housing units and over several phases replacing them with eight houses and 105 apartments. Waterman said the first phase of the project, expected to cost $18 million, includes tearing down 28 units and replacing them with 60 new units. Phase 2 involves demolishing 22 units and constructing 45. The third phase involves the construction of the eight homes.

Portland Housing Authority was expected to put out a request for proposals to hire a construction manager for the project this week.

Portland Housing Authority Executive Director Cheryl Sessions said the project also includes soil remediation, which will partially be funded by an EPA Brownfields grant, because the property sits on top of an old city landfill.

The work will mean Front Street residents will have to be temporarily relocated. Waterman said he expects to begin relocating people impacted by the first phase this summer and have the first phase of the project complete by 2022.

Sessions said the goal is to relocate people either to other Portland Housing Authority properties or other available apartments in the city.

The authority has hired a resident transition specialist to help with the temporary relocation and will be covering resident moving costs.

“We know that is going to be hard. There is no doubt about that, but it is necessary,” Sessions said. “We won’t be able to start these projects before we do these relocations.”

The $14 million project at Washington Gardens will also mean a displacement of residents, but to a much lesser degree. That project is aimed at improving the units’ interior with new flooring, cabinets, vanities and other kitchen/bathroom facilities, installing new insulation and siding and making ADA upgrades.

The project does not have city approval yet. The hope, Waterman said, is to start the nine to 12 months of construction in September 2020.


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