PORTLAND, Maine — The latest in a wave of new projects to open its doors in Portland’s Bayside neighborhood is the so-called Pearl Place Phase II, a 54-unit apartment building constructed on the former F.W. Webb warehouse site.
Pearl Place Phase I next door brought 60 units and opened in late 2007, and together, the campus occupies nearly a block of the neighborhood and, according to a project summary issued by developer Avesta Housing, “represents another major investment in the Bayside community stabilization strategy and will provide additional critical housing units to low-income families on the Portland peninsula.”
Combined, the Pearl Place buildings total nearly $25 million in investments by Avesta, which is not finished developing in the Bayside neighborhood. New England’s largest nonprofit developer of affordable housing is planning a 57-unit building — including 11 market rate apartments — for a long dormant parcel at 409 Cumberland Ave.
The Avesta projects promise to fulfill an area need for “multifamily residential housing,” which a 2000 city approved redevelopment vision for the neighborhood called “a critical component of an urban district.”
In comparison, nearly 700 market-rate apartments are being proposed as part of another Bayside project, The Federated Cos.’ multitower Midtown complex nearby.
Avesta’s 409 Cumberland Ave. location, on the corner of Cumberland and Forest avenues, has been in limbo since a 12-story condominium project proposed for the site fizzled more than five years ago, after facing legal threats from neighbors protective of their viewsheds and the subsequent collapse of the market.
Now, the Maine State Housing Authority has approved Avesta’s request for nearly $700,000 in tax credits for a housing project there, and has handed over the agency’s coveted Notice to Proceed.
At Pearl Place II, residents started moving in last month, said Avesta spokeswoman Mindy Woerter. Residents of the apartments pay between $672 and $1,101 in monthly rent — below the market rate — and are only available to people at or below 60 percent of the area median income, she said.
The median income for the Portland area is $76,400.
Residents of the Pearl Place apartments have access to the complex’ wireless Internet, on-site laundry rooms and included utilities, among other amenities.
“Most of our properties have some kind of community space, so not only can residents use it, but we can run programs here as well,” Woerter said. “This time of year, we’re talking [in workshops] about snow removal, when to move cars and that type of thing.”
Pearl Place I represents both Maine’s first affordable housing and multifamily project to receive Gold certification in the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED program, recognizing environmentally friendly construction practices.
Solar hot water systems and a planned landscaped rain garden, to absorb stormwater and reduce runoff from the development, are among the green qualities the Pearl Place campus possesses, Woerter said.
Perhaps most important in Portland, she said, the affordable housing units are still desperately needed.
Avesta has a waiting list of more than 2,000 households, according to a Pearl Place project summary, and the occupancy rate for that and similar affordable family housing properties was found in a 2010 study to be 98 percent, “with waiting lists of approximately two to three years.”