SOUTH PORTLAND ⁠— City Councilors on Tuesday unanimously approved creation of a trust fund to pay for initiatives proposed by the Affordable Housing Advisory Committee, including loan programs for low-income housing tax credits.

On July 16, Councilors also unanimously approved, with Councilor Maxine Beecher absent, two ordinances that will delay demolition of historic buildings for up to 90 days if they have been added to a list of historic city properties.

Members of the Affordable Housing Advisory Committee also asked the council to make the panel permanent and to clarify its purpose and duties. In addition to maintaining and operating the housing trust fund, which would support creation and preservation of affordable housing, they want to more closely monitor affordable housing in the city.

The ad hoc committee was formed in March 2016, after members of the public approached the City Council in October 2015 about enacting rent stabilization measures.

By the end of 2016, they completed their work analyzing the economic and regulatory environment and it impact on the quantity, quality and affordability of housing. The panel recommended 26 actions and policies for consideration in its final report.

The fund would identify and support projects pursuing low-income housing tax credit funding, and systematize the support the city may provide to projects, including loan programs, tax incentives and zoning modifications that conform with the city’s Comprehensive Plan.

“Affordable housing opportunities are near and dear to my heart,” Councilor April Caricchio said. “I was a single mother with five children, and affordable housing was hard to come by then. It’s no joke. There were many times I thought I might lose housing in the city.”

Assistant City Manager Josh Reny said before any money can be appropriated or spent from the fund, there needs to be policy developed on exactly how the money will be used and for what purpose. Money could be used to address the actions recommended in the final report form 2016, he said, or other issues that come up in the future.

Reny said the policy will likely take years to develop. There are no funds in the account now, he noted, and the ways funds will be generated are yet to be determined.

“The funds could be generated from annual appropriation, or as we sell property. We may structure tax increment financing as a way to put money away every year,” Reny said. “But it’s going to take time for any money real money to be in that account. There’s flexibility on what it can be used for, though. We can’t predict the future and what housing needs will exist five to 10 years from now.”

Councilor Katherine Lewis said while she is happy the amendments had been made, she still feels there is a lot of work that needs to be done to provide affordable housing.

“We will have to implement policy that this group brings back to us in good time, and may need to further refine and hone this,” she said. “But it’s a really solid start and we’re going to address this in a way we haven’t done before by tackling it head-on.”

Historic preservation 

The Historic Adaptive Reuse Special Exception Ordinance aims to clearly identify historic resources in the city and create incentives for preservation.

The 90-day demolition delay would also provide time to obtain adequate documentation of historic relevance or to discuss preservation options. The ordinances would also serve as a blueprint for repurposing historic buildings for new uses, and will go into effect on Aug. 16.

Community Planner Justin Barker said there are more than 400 structures in the city built prior to 1900. Buildings erected before 1940, he said, would be more likely to be considered. 

The Arts and Historic Preservation Commission would do the initial determination of a building’s historical significance. If it qualifies, a building would be added to a local list of historic properties curated by the AHPC and recommended to the council; if not, the process ends.

Barker said the goal is to document historic locations and offer alternative measures to individuals with historic homes slated for demolition. He said the city has no control over someone who wants to make changes to their property. But if a home is added to the list, a 90-day hold on the property could be implemented in order to obtain photographs for historical archives.

Barker first discussed the combined proposal in a council workshop April 16. The Planning Board held a hearing for the land use and zoning ordinance on June 12, when it recommended council approval. Councilors unanimously approved the first reading of two ordinances July 2.


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