Residents of new housing development for low-income elders celebrate ‘cozy porches’ and ‘a sense of being home’
STANDISH, Maine — The second phase of Avesta Housing’s Stonecrest development in Standish was completed about seven months ago. By Friday, when residents belatedly celebrated the new project with a harvest luncheon, a four-year waiting list to move in had already accumulated.
“I watched Stonecrest being built,” said one lucky applicant — now resident — Mary Roberts on Friday. “I lived right around the corner on Oak Ridge Drive, and when I applied, they asked me if I wanted to be on the waiting list. I said, ‘yes, definitely,’ and it’s the most wonderful thing that I could have imagined. I love the sunny windows and the gardens and the big closets, and most of all, the people.”
Greg Payne of the Portland-based Avesta, northern New England’s largest nonprofit housing developer, said the list has 125 people or households on it. Stonecrest Phase II added 25 federally subsidized units to a 12-unit community built more than 30 years ago in Standish, and the new apartments were filled less than four months after the doors opened in early March.
“That speaks to an incredible amount of demand and the absorption rate in this area,” Payne said.
Unlike the more common Section 8 federal housing voucher program, in which the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development provides low-income individuals stipends of certain amounts they can put toward housing expenses anywhere, Stonecrest housing is subsidized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development office.
Under the USDA subsidy program, the federal allocation stays with the unit, not the renter. Qualifying low-income applicants under the program pay 30 percent of their income — however much that income is — toward the housing and the federal subsidies cover the rest.
That’s a key difference, said Avesta President Dana Totman, whose organization owns or manages 71 housing properties — consisting of 1,900 units — the overwhelming majority of which are in Maine.
“Our rents are reduced compared to the market regardless, but it’s still too much for a lot of people, even if they do have vouchers,” he said.
Stonecrest is designated for people who are 62 or older, or are living with disabilities. According to documentation provided by Avesta, about a quarter of the residents now living in the community were previously homeless or living in unsafe conditions. All were living unsustainably, said Totman, often spending half to three-quarters of their limited incomes on rent, leaving little for food, medication or utilities.
Almost as important as the financial help, said Totman, is the community atmosphere the organization attempted to instill at Stonecrest. A community garden is open to all residents at the complex, and many residents have gathered to start activities such as movie nights and BINGO games.
“I’ve lived here for only four months, and I’ve met so many nice people here,” said resident Avis Goodwin, one of the lucky applicants to earn a slot. “Happy people walking their dogs, people waving to you from their cozy little porches. It gives you a sense of being home.”