Developer Avesta Housing Development Corp. has transformed a vacant dirt parking lot into needed mixed-income housing with a focus on healthy living in downtown Portland, Maine.

Part of the vision behind its 57-unit 409 Cumberland Avenue Apartments was to create a community that reflects the city’s priorities, which include strong health and food systems. The new development features community garden beds and Maine’s first rooftop greenhouse where residents can grow vegetables year-round as well as the Healthy Living Center on the first floor that includes a demonstration kitchen where residents can learn to make the most of their harvests.

Avesta partnered with Cultivating Community, a local nonprofit that provides special programming and meets with residents and community members to teach how to grow and cook healthy meals.

“When we started focusing on the addition of the Healthy Living Center to the building, which consists of the demonstration kitchen on the first floor and the greenhouse and garden beds on the roof, we really felt that was the introduction of a component that went above and beyond providing housing,” says Seth Parker, director of real estate development for Avesta. “It really is a neighborhood and community amenity.”

The development, which opened in April 2015, is meeting a critical need for mixed-income housing in the downtown’s Bayside Redevelopment Area, a neighborhood with a 38% poverty rate and 83% low- and moderate-income people.

“Portland has a serious housing crisis right now. Vacancies are almost at zero, and there have been real steep increases in rents in the greater Portland area,” says Parker. “Affordable housing is an ultimate premium right now, and we can’t build enough of these developments.”

Forty-six units are affordable to households earning less than 60% of the area median income, with the remainder at market rates. The studio, one-, and two-bedroom units are serving a group of diverse residents, from seniors and young adults to recent immigrants and the formerly homeless.

The development team also paid special attention to environmental sustainability. Sustainable features include a super-insulated building envelope, a high-efficiency heating system, a low-impact stormwater management system, zero-VOC paints and low-VOC materials, low-flow plumbing fixtures, LED lighting, and Energy Star appliances.

The $11.2 million development was financed primarily with low-income housing tax credits allocated by MaineHousing, with Boston Capital as the syndicator. MaineHousing also provided a subsidy and an interest-only mortgage. Additional financing included Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston Affordable Housing Program funds through member Gorham Savings Bank and HOME funds from the city of Portland.

Project Details

Developer: Avesta Housing Development Corp.
Architect: CWS Architects
Major Funders: Boston Capital; MaineHousing; city of Portland; Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston; Gorham Savings Bank; NeighborWorks America