BELFAST, Maine — Raymelle Moody works hard to make a living at her hot dog business, which has grown fast since she launched it in 2014 with just a single hot dog cart.
But when her longtime landlord told her last fall she needed to move from the two-bedroom apartment she’d been renting downtown for $750 a month, Moody found out those types of deals were a thing of the past.
With only a modest income to secure a new place, she became a victim of the midcoast housing crunch.
“I had been priced out of my own hometown,” the 41-year-old woman told a crowd of about 80 last week on the site of the city’s former public works department at 115 Congress St.
There, city officials and Portland-based Developers Collaborative hope to redevelop the 3.5-acre lot as a mix of workforce and market-rate housing — but the plan is being met with resistance from neighbors in part because of the stigma surrounding subsidized housing.
Affordable housing has been a top priority for the Belfast City Council for more than a decade. Mayor Eric Sanders said when the city decided to move its public works department to a much larger site on Crocker Road, officials were eager to find a way to develop the Congress Street lot for housing.
They’re seeking input from neighbors before finalizing any plans, but Kevin Bunker, one of the founders of Developers Collaborative, said the site could include up to 36 affordable apartments, as well as 12 market-rate ones. Rents would range from $630 a month for a one-bedroom unit to just more than $1,000 for a three-bedroom apartment.
“There’s an infinite number of discussion items,” he said, adding that any development plan would include greenspace. “This cake hasn’t been baked yet, but looking at it as a developer, it’s a good site for housing.” For starters, it’s within easy walking distance to parks, grocery stores, downtown shops and other retail.
Tenants would be subject to annual household income thresholds roughly between $23,000 and $43,000, Bunker said, and also would have to pass credit and criminal background checks. A property manager would spend two or three days a week at the development, which would feature a 24-hour on-call system for residents.
City officials believe more affordable housing is greatly needed in Belfast, where rents are rising faster than wages can keep pace. According to the Maine State Housing Authority, a three-person family in Waldo County making $30,300 year cannot afford more than $757 for a two-bedroom apartment. But a scan of Craigslist on Sunday showed only two unsubsidized apartments available — and those were advertised for $995 and $1,500 a month.
While the city’s lowest wage earners continue to get priced out of Belfast, opponents of the Congress Street project fear it could erode the charm of their neighborhood.
“I have grave concerns,” said Sonja Salvatore, who lives next to the site. “I’m also going to go out on a limb and say low-income housing brings a lot of things, like drugs and domestic violence.”
Chris Knight, a Belfast homeowner, said he fears the development will decrease his property value.
“This isn’t the place for this type of project, right here in the middle of this nice community,” he said.
But Moody, a low-income resident, dismissed those fears.
“I am the demographic for whom this is designed,” she said. “I implore you to put down your ideas that this will cause your property values to go down, that the folks who live here will somehow bring down your neighborhood.”
Bunker said in his experience, the values of property near low-income housing do not decrease.
“Where there’s affordable housing that turns bad, in my experience, that is because of bad management,” he said.
While neighbors have shared other concerns about the project related to density, traffic congestion and surrounding sidewalk connectivity, at least one neighbor who lives across the street from the proposed development supports it.
“I’ve been hoping and praying we’d have some kind of housing development,” Zafra Whitcomb said. “I sit out in front of my door and watch the sunset every day. It will be a real pleasant chance to have it set over houses.”
Developers Collaborative has developed nearly 1,000 housing units elsewhere, and is building an affordable senior housing development on Wight Street in Belfast. The developer is looking to utilize available tax credits to build a mix of affordable and market-rate condos in Belfast on the Congress Street site. The city has granted the developers an option to purchase the parcel for $136,423.