Portland city councilors voted Wednesday to approve zoning incentives for low- and middle-income housing developments in certain areas of the city.

The incentives will especially help developers of nonprofit housing compete for funding from the Maine State Housing Authority by reducing per unit construction costs – a major issue in Maine’s largest city.

“I think this is the most significant response to Portland’s affordable housing crisis that has been brought forward,” said Dana Totman, CEO of Avesta Housing, the state’s largest nonprofit affordable housing developer.

That sentiment was shared by advocates and councilors alike, including Councilor David Brenerman, who was one of five councilors appointed by Mayor Ethan Strimling in 2016 to serve on the Housing Committee. One of the committee’s top goals was to figure ways to increase development of affordable housing, but the panel has made little progress toward that goal.

“This is what I thought we’d be doing last year,” Brenerman said. “We got into the weeds of landlord tenants issues. Finally we’re doing it.”

The zoning amendments relax density and height restrictions, and setback rules, for low-income and affordable housing developments on the peninsula and along some traffic corridors such as Forest Avenue. Councilors suggested that similar changes could be made along Washington and Brighton avenues, among others.

The action will allow two projects by Portland Housing Authority – a new building being proposed for East Bayside and a proposal to rebuild and double the number of units in its Front Street development in East Deering – to move forward.

Some East Deering residents expressed concern about changes to Planned Residential Use Developments – those with at least 50 percent low income or affordable units – so the council voted to strengthen design guidelines before approving the final package.

The council voted unanimously to add the incentives to the peninsula and transportation corridors. But the proposed changes to PRUDs, which are campus-style housing developments like the PHA’s Front Street complex, passed 8-1, with Councilor Justin Costa opposed.

Costa, who is up for re-election in District 4 where the Front street project is located, opposed the PRUD changes.

The incentives apply to so-called PRUDs and in the following zones: B-1, B-2, B-2b, B-2c, B-3, B-3b, B-3c, B-5, R-7 and R-P Zones.

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

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