Avesta holding community workshop tonight

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

The president of Avesta Housing Inc. and his development officer are coming to Bridgton tonight, April 26, to hold a “Community Workshop” starting at 7:15 p.m. at the Bridgton Community Center.

Avesta President Dana Totman and Development Officer Matt Peters will be on hand to “discuss community needs and opportunities connected with senior apartments in downtown Bridgton,” according to an e-mail sent April 19 by Peters to The Bridgton News.

Peters did not say why there wasn’t more notice given to the public prior to the event, when contacted by The News. The agency’s as yet unsubmitted plans to build a three-story elderly and disabled housing complex on the former Chapter 11 property at 247 Main Street have been a constant source of friction and debate between town officials and some members of the public for the past few months.

Avesta contacted the town last October for information about possible downtown locations to site their 21-unit affordable housing complex, after negotiations fell through on the first site they had selected, the Crockett Ridge property just north of Pondicherry Square. Peters said tonight’s meeting will help Avesta to refine their plans, which he said are “still extremely in a conceptual stage.”

The workshop will open with a background history of Avesta, which has grown since its founding in 1972 to become the largest nonprofit housing agency in New England. It has both a property management and a real estate development department. Currently, Avesta has at least a half-dozen low-income housing projects in various stages of construction in southern Maine, worth $55 million, and has been aggressively pursuing markets where the demographics show the most need.

The 2010 U.S. Census data shows that one-fifth of Bridgton’s total population of 5,374 is age 65 or older, and the poverty rate is higher than any other town in Cumberland County.

“We’re seeing that trend all across Maine,” said Peters, of an aging population with limited resources. Many people have called to inquire about being put on a waiting list, should the project become a reality in Bridgton.

“We have an opportunity to provide senior housing in Bridgton, and we want to describe that opportunity and develop synergies with existing organizations” at the workshop,” Peters said.

Peters said Totman is willing to “explore what the possibilities might be on that first floor” to allay concerns of those who are alarmed at the prospect of an all-residential complex on a prime Main Street commercial parcel. “We want to see if we can incorporate” the public’s stated desire for a commercial presence on the parcel, he added.

Peters has said that funding depends on the project being located at 247 Main Street, and that alternative locations are not possible. Avesta has an option to purchase the property, currently owned by Food City owner Zack Sclar. The $4 million-plus housing complex for the elderly and disabled would be funded by a for-profit limited partnership of investors using federal low income tax credits and MaineHousing funds. Avesta Housing would have controlling ownership in the building, Peters has said.

The project would have 19 one-bedroom units and two two-bedroom units. Eligible renters would pay a third of their annual income, which under federal low-income guidelines must be under $22,000 a year for a one-bedroom apartment and $25,800 a year for a two-bedroom unit. A person making $21,000 a year, for example, would pay $7,000 annually to rent there, or $583 a month.

Peters has said that in other of the many affordable projects for the elderly and disabled Avesta has built in southern Maine, such as Wayside Pines in Bridgton, only one percent of the tenants are classified as disabled. Most renters are between the ages of 55 and 62, he said.

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