A rendering shows the first phase of Avesta’s planned $10 million housing development in Parkside, a four-story building at the corner of Cumberland Avenue and Mellen Street. Rendering courtesy Archetype Architects

Maine’s largest affordable-housing developer wants to build 82 apartments – mostly for low-income residents – in Portland’s Parkside neighborhood, adding badly needed units at below-market rates in a city where gentrification threatens to displace many low- and middle-income residents on the peninsula.

But the $10 million Deering Place development is also raising residents’ concerns about density in the already thickly populated neighborhood between Deering Oaks and Congress Street.

The proposal by Avesta Housing would include an addition to the single-story building at 510 Cumberland Ave. and two new four-story buildings: one on what’s now a parking lot at the corner of Cumberland Avenue and Mellen Street and another on a parking lot on Deering Street.

Sixty percent of the units would be reserved for people with annual incomes up to $20,000 to $40,000, based on the size of the units.

“Those are underutilized parking lots, so transforming them will be really beneficial,” said Matthew Peters, Avesta’s vice president of real estate services. “We think it will be a great addition to the neighborhood and a great addition to the city.”

The proposal comes as the city experiences a development boom of mostly market-rate apartments, condominiums and hotels. The strong demand for housing had been pushing up rents, making city living less affordable for both low-income and middle-income residents.

While a group of advocates looks to tackle the problem of rising rents by passing rules limiting rent increases, Peters said he sees a supply problem. Already, about 1,600 people have contacted Avesta looking for an affordable apartment in Portland, he said.

“That’s more than all of last year,” he said. “The phones are ringing off the hook.”

The proposal is generating concern among some Parkside residents, said Emma Holder, president of the Parkside Neighborhood Association.

This rendering shows the second phase of Avesta Housing’s proposed complex in Parkside, from Deering Street looking northwest. Courtesy Archetype Architects

Holder said some board members are concerned about the effort to “shoehorn” so many new apartments into an already densely populated neighborhood. There’s also a concern that the neighborhood’s parking issues will worsen.

She’d like to see development include some sort of incentive for residents to ditch their cars and ride public transportation.

“There are concerns about parking, which in Parkside is dire and could move to downright disastrous if people don’t get over their addiction to their cars,” she said.

According to city tax records, Avesta purchased 510 Cumberland Ave. and other abutting properties for just over $2 million in October from the Opportunity Alliance, a nonprofit that helps at-risk families stay together by addressing the underlying factors of poverty, mental illness, high rates of substance abuse, and child neglect and abuse. Avesta says the land totals 1.1 acres.

Opportunity Alliance Chief Executive Officer Michael Tarpinian said the group still has a presence in the neighborhood, but has since moved its mental health crisis, mobile outreach services and mental health care coordination services for adults to 190 Lancaster St.

Tarpinian said the sale stems from the 2011 merger of Youth Alternatives Ingraham and People’s Regional Opportunity Program. The agency sold 50 Monument Square, Youth Alternatives’ former headquarters, several years ago, so selling 510 Cumberland Ave., PROP’s former headquarters, was the next logical step, he said.

“It was important to us to sell the properties to someone that we hope will increase the housing capacity in the neighborhood, while also allowing us to maintain our presence in the neighborhood and on the peninsula,” Tarpinian said.

In a memo to the city, Avesta says 50 of the units would be for the “very low income,” and 32 units would be market rate.

Of the low-income units, there would be seven efficiencies, 21 single-bedrooms, nine two-bedrooms and 13 three-bedrooms. Of the market-rate units, four would be efficiencies, 26 would be single-bedrooms and two would be two-bedrooms.

However, none of the units would be designated specifically as low income, Peters said in a memo to the city.

“Depending on income mix of the current residents, the rent-restricted units will move through the building,” Peters wrote. “Therefore, there is no distinction in finishes and unit layout or size between the very-low-income and market-rate apartments.”

Peters said in an interview that rents for the low-income units would range from $680 for an efficiency to $870 for a two-bedroom. He said the three-bedroom units, which currently exist and would be renovated, would only cost $800.

To qualify, Peters said the maximum household income would range from $20,000 to $40,000 a year.

Rents for the market-rate apartments are currently projected to be $915 for an efficiency, $1,250 for a single-bedroom and $1,500 for a two-bedroom.

Peters said 64 parking spaces would be on site – an increase over the 53 spaces there currently – and the Parkside Community Policing station would remain on site.

Peters said Avesta projects that half of the project would be funded by MaineHousing, with the rest coming from additional sources.

Avesta, which hopes to break ground in the fall of 2018 and have the units occupied by the summer of 2019, plans to hold a neighborhood meeting at 510 Cumberland Ave. on Aug. 17 from 6-7:30 p.m.

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

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