A rendering of Jocelyn Place, a $14 million, 60-unit complex of affordable senior housing the South Portland Housing Authority is proposing to build in Scarborough. Courtesy / South Portland Housing Authority

SCARBOROUGH — The South Portland Housing Authority is proposing a new $14 million affordable senior housing complex in Scarborough, but before it can be approved, the Scarborough Town Council has to decide whether or not to grant the project a tax credit associated with the downtown tax increment finance district.

The complex, named Jocelyn Place, would be located in the town’s Oak Hill village at the corner of Little Dolphin Avenue and Access Road and include 60 units of affordable senior housing.

The Housing Authority presented the proposal to the Town Council at a workshop on July 15.

According to Brooks Moore, the authority’s director of development, the waiting list for comparable properties speaks to the need for the new complex. He told The Forecaster that Ridgeland Estates, a 55+ community in South Portland, has a 98% occupancy rate with 80 people on a waiting list to get in. Ridgeland Gardens, a similar complex, is 100% occupied and has 70 people on a waiting list.

“The market studies have found there is pent-up demand,” he said.

A 2019 presentation from the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition shows that in April 2019, an estimated 18,100 households were looking for affordable housing assistance, a jump of 6,000 from the same month in 2018. Of those applicants, the coalition estimated 81%, or 14,661, were “either elderly or disabled.”

A 2015 report from the coalition warned that 2012 data showed nearly 9,000 seniors were unable to find affordable housing, with the prediction that “without any change to the existing rental stock, by 2022 the shortfall of affordable rental units will increase to more than 15,000.”

Marjorie DeSanctis, chairwoman of the Scarborough Housing Alliance, said local senior housing projects also have waiting lists and part of the reason for local demand is that Scarborough is a more expensive town to live in. The median state income is $50,000, and the median home price in Maine is nearly $250,000, but she said in Scarborough the median home price is $400,000 and the town’s average cost of living requires a median income of $83,000.

“A lot of seniors are finding it unaffordable,” she said.

So are their kids. DeSanctis said younger people are not coming back to live at home or to buy their family home to maintain. This leaves seniors to look for more affordable options, something the Jocelyn Place project could provide.

“They’re trying to get the people who are having a harder time finding affordable housing,” DeSanctis said.

DeSanctis said she will recommend to the Town Council that the alliance submit funding to the authority to help fund the project, but it’s not clear how much money would be available. Moore told the council on July 15 that being involved with the downtown tax increment financing district and getting a credit enhancement agreement would be necessary to fund the bulk of the project. The authority is asking for a 75% credit agreement, meaning the project would only pay 25% of its regular taxes throughout a 30-year agreement and use the projected savings to finance construction.

“The TIF really enables the project and without it, it’s very unlikely we would be successful,” he said.

The TIF, established in 2018, includes the town’s Oak Hill neighborhood and the 500-acre property known as The Downs, where the Scarborough Downs racetrack is located. A 2018 document introducing the TIF described it as “a rare and unique opportunity to re-imagine the concept of downtown, blending existing development with the creation of a new main street.”

Opinions among the councilors on July 15 were mixed. Some argued that more information on the benefits of the project to the town were necessary before approving the credit enhancement proposal.

“That’s a significant amount of revenue over the next 27 years,” said Councilor Peter Hayes, who also chairs the council’s Finance Committee.

Other councilors strongly supported the project in concept, despite the need to learn more about it.

“I know (such projects) make a huge difference in being able to provide affordable housing,” Councilor Jean-Marie Caterina said.

The workshop ended with no action taken, but the council is expected to address the issue at its next meeting, scheduled for Aug. 19.

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