FORT KENT, Maine — It has been two years since flooding forced elderly residents out of their subsidized apartments at the confluence of the Fish and St. John rivers.
Earlier this spring ground was broken on 7 acres off Village Road in Fort Kent for a new, 16-unit, low-income senior apartment complex to replace the one destroyed in the flood of 2008.
The $2.7 million project is funded through state and federal loans and grants, including a $1.53 million Community Development Block Grant, the largest ever awarded in Maine.
An additional $1.2 million in loans were secured through the United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development Program, according to Project Manager Michael Albert of St. John Valley Realty.
Federal funds obtained previously through the town totaling $420,000 were used to acquire and demolish the flood-damaged structure.
“We broke ground in mid-May,” Albert said. “We hope to have people moving in by next March.”
Fort Kent Housing, which also operates several other elderly apartment units around town, owns the housing project, and St. John Valley Realty manages the facility.
“The people who were displaced by the flooding have first rights to the new apartments,” Albert said.
Since the flooding, Albert said he was able to find housing for those residents among units operated by Fort Kent Housing, other elderly housing facilities and with relatives.
“Some of those elderly citizens were receiving [Federal Emergency Management Agency] assistance for the first year after the flood,” Albert said. “Since then some have also received aid from Catholic Charities of Maine.”
All of the new units, Albert said, will be federally subsidized, and residents will pay a rent equal to 30 percent of their annual income.
“We have a waiting list of 80 applicants who want to move in,” he said. “There is a need for this kind of housing in Fort Kent.”
In addition to the 16 one-bedroom units planned for the complex, Albert said there is a second phase of construction in the planning stages to include four, two-bedroom, nonsubsidized units.
Construction costs for the housing, according to Albert, are $1,698,000, and the building contract was awarded to Devoe Construction of Eagle Lake.
The rest of the funding will be used to extend municipal sewer and water lines to the apartments.
“We are working closely with the town on this,” Albert said.
“Our role is to facilitate the project to make it happen,” said Town Manager Don Guimond. “We also helped procure the funding.”
Albert admits two years is a long time for the displaced residents to wait before seeing the start of new construction, saying governmental procedures, the economy and an election year added to the timetable.
“Between the flood and now we had an election,” he said. “Whenever you go from a Republican to a Democratic administration there is a change in all appointed heads of federal agencies [and] it was a six- to nine-month wait before anyone was appointed new head of rural economic development in Maine.”
Completing the detailed application for funding forms also was a months-long process and the national housing and economic downturn put a halt on much of the federal funds being awarded for construction projects, Albert said.
“Residents like these elderly need to come home,” Guimond said. “Three years later they will finally be able to move back in.”