Brewer Housing Authority awarded $2.4M for community center

Posted Sept. 28, 2011, at 12:05 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 28, 2011, at 4:39 p.m.

BREWER, Maine — Brewer Housing Authority residents trying to better their lives through education will soon be able to take classes at a new community center paid for by a $2.4 million U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant.

The housing authority in Brewer was one of five chosen from a pool of 58 countrywide that applied for $15 million in funds to build preschool, adult education or job training facilities, Executive Director Gordon Stitham said Wednesday.

“Doesn’t that say it all?” he said.

HUD awarded Brewer $2,491,690 to build a 10,035-square-foot, one-story community center and also gave funds to housing authorities in Georgia, New Jersey, New York and Washington.

“What better time than now to invest in helping Americans win the future?” HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan said in a press release. “This funding fills the gap for public housing agencies that want to provide these services but lacked the resources.”

The number of residents in Brewer already enrolled in the Family Economic and Self-Sufficiency and the Resident Opportunity and Self-Sufficiency programs played a big part in the success of the application, according to Stitham.

In the past nine years, 56 BHA residents have taken classes under the programs and six have been able to purchase homes, he said.

Residents currently can take education, homeownership and small-business development classes and get job training at several locations in Bangor under the two programs. With the new community center, they will be able to take those classes at a facility on the housing authority’s campus, Stitham said. HUD requires that the facility be within one mile of family housing, he said.

“Right now, we have 160 residents enrolled in the economic self-sufficiency program,” Stitham said. “Seventy-two have already increased their level of education, 91 are employed and 34 have increased their savings through the [family self-sufficiency program] escrow accounts that we’ve set up for them.”

Exactly where the center will be located has not been decided, but there are two locations that commissioners are considering, both of which are adjacent to family residential housing, he said.

The Bangor Adult & Community Education Program, Eastern Maine Community College, Eastern Maine Development Corp.’s Tri-County Workforce Investment Board and PC of Maine from Searsport are expected to offer classes at the new facility.

“They’re doing the computer classes,” Stithman said of PC of Maine.

To qualify for the HUD funding, the housing authority had to come up with local matching funds equal to 5 percent of the total cost, in this case $125,000, and Brewer exceeded that by obtaining $150,000 in guarantees, Stitham said.

The community center, which also will be available for community activities, will have a child care center for those taking classes to use.

“They will have a drop-off day care facility for the students coming to the classes,” Stitham said. “They can drop of the child while they are taking the classes and pick them up after class.”

There will be a cost for the day care, but those rates have not been established, he said.

The housing authority hopes to break ground in March.

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