Stefanie Millette helped build her eight-home Habitat for Humanity community in Freeport in 2015. Courtesy Stefanie Millette

FREEPORT — As she moved from place to place in the Portland area after moving from Massachusetts to Maine a decade ago, Stefanie Millette was coaching people about the Habitat for Humanity program when she came upon an epiphany:  “I was always thinking of myself as the helper, the helper, the helper,” she said. “And I had never thought about actually being a Habitat for Humanity partner.”

Habitat has built 12 houses in Freeport, including an eight-home project in 2015, of which Millette is a resident. Habitat helped to make “paying a mortgage and closing payments, and all of the homeownership steps, a reality at my income level, which was excellent,” she said.

The Greater Portland Habitat has two new builds on the horizon in Freeport this summer at the corner of Route 1 and Old Brunswick Road. Two homes – one with three bedrooms, the other with four – are to be built immediately and be finished next February, with a third to follow, according to Godfrey Wood, executive director of Greater Portland Habitat. Each home sits on about 1 acre.

In building her home, Millette worked alongside other Habitat homeowners in the complex, with whom she said she has built a safe, stable and cohesive community.

“We all live fairly close together,” Millette said. “… I live for the first time in the most racially diverse neighborhood I think you could ask for in New England,” offering a mix of ethnic backgrounds and careers, such as fishermen and small business owners. “I garden alongside neighbors who are from all walks of life.”

Millette’s Habitat homeownership experience has included respite fostering of 13 children between the ages 2 months and 17 years, “who have truly been valued members of our neighborhood family each and every time,” Millette said.

“It’s the kind of community I think my parents dreamed of somehow bringing my own family to, growing up,” Millette said. “So now in my generation, being able to make that possible for my own kids has been pretty incredible.”

“The hard part is picking one family per home when you’ve got 10 great candidates,” Wood said. Habitat uses a scoring system to determine that, and “the key factor turns out to be need; what does this family need? Are they in a crime-ridden neighborhood?”

Safe, low income housing is needed in the area, according to Freeport Housing Trust. The 149 apartments owned by the trust has 99% occupancy, and the waitlist for rental-assisted properties is about 100, according to Executive Director Matthew Peters. The median home sale price in Freeport is $379,000, which is “out of the range of lower-income households, entirely,” and excludes “a large group of people that would be valuable to our community from moving to Freeport,” he said.

Habitat screens all candidates based on housing need, willingness and evidence of ability to both help build the home and afford a home – hence a minimum annual gross income requirement of at least $30,000. More information on guidelines is available at habitatportlandme.org.

Freeport’s median income in 2014-2018 was $80,723, according to census.gov. Per capita income during that time was $47,700, and 6.1% of residents were living in poverty, the website states. Nearly 76% of homes were owner-occupied.

The maximum qualifying income for a family of three to be eligible for a home is $67,000, and $74,400 for a four-person family, according to Wood. Those numbers are 80% of the median family income for the Greater Portland Metro area.

Those interested in applying to own one of the homes must attend an informational session, which explain the homeownership program, related requirements, and the application process. Registration instructions – available by emailing [email protected]habitatme.org or calling 772-2151 – will be sent to interested parties later this month, and the sessions will be held next month at the Freeport Community Center.

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