WATERVILLE — Renovation of the first home bought by Waterville Community Land Trust is underway and expected to be completed in several weeks. The house at 181 Water St. will be available for sale to a family with low income, and prospective homeowners may apply online within a couple of weeks, according to Ashley Pullen, land trust president.

“There’s plenty of space for a family to comfortably live here,” Pullen said Thursday during a tour of the house. “It has a nice yard in back and good neighbors.”

The land trust bought the two-story house, which was built around 1900 in the city’s South End, with money from an anonymous donor through the Maine Community Foundation. Money for renovation is from various sources, including donors who support the need for affordable homes in Waterville, according to Nancy Williams, the land trust’s vice president of public relations and development.

Williams, who helped found the land trust, is a former executive director of the multimillion-dollar Lake George Land Conservancy in New York. Williams started discussions three years ago about starting a land trust in Waterville as a way to help preserve the historic nature of neighborhoods and provide affordable homes for families.

The idea is that increasing home ownership in the city will help stabilize neighborhoods and make them safer. The land trust is a nonprofit organization that plans to buy or acquire more homes through donations and fundraising and sell them at affordable prices. If and when a homeowner decides to sell the home, the land trust would retain ownership of the land as well as a substantial share of any profit on the sale of the house.

Pullen points to land trusts operating in 242 communities throughout the country, including a successful one in Burlington, Vermont.

The Waterville land trust is run by an all-volunteer board of directors that decided to focus first on the historic South End area of the city. The area had been a hub of activity for Franco-Americans who had moved there near the turn of the century from Canada to work in area mills, but it has fallen on hard times.

The land trust efforts coincide with those of the South End Neighborhood Association in trying to help improve neighborhoods, and some land trust board members also are members of the neighborhood association.

WAITING FOR A FAMILY

The land trust bought the house at 181 Water St. in January for $35,000 and expects to do up to $100,000 worth of renovation to it before selling it to a family. When the land trust bought the property, which had been owned by an elderly couple, it had an assessed value of $37,100.

On June 21, the trust signed an agreement with the Kennebec Valley Community Action Program and Maine Energy Pros Inc. for renovation of the house. KVCAP is the project manager and will review all work and approve any requested changes; Christopher Poirier, vice president of Energy Pros, which has done a lot of work for KVCAP over several years, is the contractor.

“KVCAP has worked for years to develop better housing for our low-income families,” KVCAP’s director of energy and housing, Monica Grady, said in a news release. “This project fits with our mission to improve energy efficiency, support affordable housing and sustain opportunities for home ownership.”

Poirier said the project not only helps to provide quality housing, but also enhances residents’ quality of life.

During the house tour Thursday, Poirier said he grew up in Waterville in the 1970s and ’80s and visited friends in the South End, which at the time was not considered a safe place. As an adult, he has worked on construction and weatherization projects for KVCAP and has seen the neighborhood improve in many ways. He also owns rental properties on streets including Gold Street and Carey Lane in the South End.

The three-bedroom land trust house at the south end of Water Street is a great house that is structurally sound and has an ideal layout, he said.

Workers jacked the house up a little, did some demolition and roof work, installed electrical outlets and added spray foam insulation to the basement. They also will build a half-bathroom off the master bedroom on the second floor. Pullen said the development of the land trust’s applications is in the final stages, so a family that would buy the home has not yet been identified.

“We want to look for a family now to apply,” she said. “We will post the application on our website and it should be ready within a couple of weeks.”

Families applying to buy the house must meet state guidelines for low-income eligibility and qualify for a mortgage from a lending institution, Pullen said.

POSITIVE SIGNS

As she surveyed the rooms, including a kitchen, a mud room and spacious dining and living rooms on the first floor, Pullen said she is optimistic about not only that house, but also a home at 182 Water St. across the street, that the land trust has an option to buy.

“To see concrete, tangible progress is so exciting because for so long, we waited and waited,” she said.

There were many steps that had to be taken before work actually started on the house, including paperwork and legal processes.

“It was a lot of hurry up and wait,” she said. “Now to see progress being made is very exciting.”

City Councilor Jackie Dupont, D-Ward 7, a land trust director and coordinator of the South End Neighborhood Association, said the renovation project highlights many improvements that have been made over several years in the South End.

A new recreational trail is being built where the Kennebec River and Messalonskee Stream connect in the South End, and that trail became possible because of leadership by the city, the neighborhood association, Kennebec Messalonskee Trails and the land trust, Dupont said.

Dupont, who thinks that amenities will help entice more people to live in the area, said the neighborhood also has been made safer through efforts of the neighborhood association’s quality of life committee and Waterville police, including Chief Joseph Massey and South End police Officer Damon Lefferts.

The 181 Water St. house is near a children’s playground, a boat ramp, a softball field and parks, which City Planner Ann Beverage, who also is vice president of finances for the land trust, cited as pluses.

Meanwhile, Williams said more projects are planned.

“All of our homes will be affordable to workforce families and will remain perpetually affordable to all future buyers,” she said. “We are committed to the importance of home ownership to families, neighborhoods and the city. We are also pleased that a local contractor was chosen for the project. We hope our projects will benefit our local economy.”