Brewer community center proposed

Posted Dec. 12, 2010, at 9:53 p.m.

BREWER, Maine — Brewer Housing Authority officials would like to build a community center for residents and others to use for classes and training, but need local matching funds to apply for the federal grant funds to build it.

That is why the housing authority will hold a business forum 6 p.m. Monday, Gordon Stitham, Brewer Housing Authority executive director, said last week.

“We need the community — the businesses — to help us come up with the 5 percent leverage to apply for this grant,” he said. “One of the thresholds [of the federal application] is a 5 percent cash commitment.”

The primary purpose of the proposed facility “would be to provide educational and job training programs that would result in improved economic independence and self-sufficiency for the residents in public housing,” a BHA letter states. “However, the facility and programs would also be available to the local community.”

In the past nine years 56 BHA residents have taken or are taking classes to better their lives through the Resident Opportunity and Self-Sufficiency, or ROSS, program, and six have been able to purchase homes, Stitham said.

The program offers education, homeownership and small-business development classes and job training at several locations in Bangor. With a community center in Brewer, all of the classes and training could be done in one place locally, he said.

Stitham, who has worked for the housing authority for the past 21 years, has seen the program help numerous low-income residents “become self-sufficient enough to open a new door into their new life.”

The community center, which would be built on housing authority land and would include a child care center, is estimated to cost $2.5 million.

“At that cost, we would need $125,000” in local commitments, Stitham said. “The more leverage you have, the more points you get for the application and the better it looks.”

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has announced funds are available for housing authorities to build preschool, adult education or job training facilities, but the grant process is competitive, Stitham said.

“They’re only going to select 12 applicants,” he said. “There is a big demand for this, but it’s that 5 percent, that leverage, that cash commitment letter from businesses,” groups or philanthropists that will make the application possible.

Brewer Housing Authority, with 154 residential units, is considered a small housing authority and is going up against housing authorities with thousands and thousands of units, Stitham said.

The proposed community building “is not only for the housing authority, it’s for everybody,” he said.

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