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—Town councilors who had questions and reservations about a proposed $14 million affordable senior housing complex are still on the fence about whether to support the project, but told The Forecaster a recent workshop answered some of their questions about a proposed tax break for the facility.

“I’m still considering all the factors,” said Councilor Betsy Gleysteen about Joselyn Place.

The authority first unveiled the proposal at a July workshop. The 49,400-square-foot, three-story building will offer one-bedroom units ranging in size from 607 to 616 square feet. The building will also have a lobby, living room, activity room and laundry room in addition to an elevator, free wifi, and sitting areas. The proposal also includes outdoor public patios and enough room for a community garden.

The South Portland Housing Authority, which is proposing the project, met with the council last week in a second workshop session to discuss the finer details, which, if approved, would include 60 units of affordable housing.

At the initial workshop, the principal concern was a tax break the authority has asked the town for. Town Manager Tom Hall said determining the break comes down to two factors: Percentage, and number of years. The original proposal asked for a 75% decrease on taxes for 28 years. At the time, Town Councilor Peter Hayes, who also chairs the council’s finance committee, had strong concerns that it was asking too much of the town.

Hall said the principal need for the authority was to earn “points” with the Maine State Housing Authority. Earning points would help the project secure funding from the state that, Hall said, would be a requirement for the South Portland Housing Authority to afford to build it.

“This project doesn’t happen without getting an award from Maine housing,” he said.

To illustrate the need for Jocelyn Place, the authority noted two other affordable housing complexes it runs, Ridgeland Estates, a 55+ community in South Portland, which has a 98% occupancy rate with 80 people on a waiting list to get in, and Ridgeland Gardens, a similar complex, which is 100% occupied and has 70 people on a waiting list.

State and local law defines residents or families eligible for affordable housing as making 80% or less than the median income, which is $50,000 statewide. According to the proposal, rents will be depend upon residents’ income – eight units will not require residents to pay more than 30% of their income; 28 units, available to residents making up to $35,150 in annual income, will have rents at or below $941 per month; the remaining 24 units, available to residents making up to $42,180, will have rents at or below $1,129 per month.

The proposal indicated that a 75% tax break for 28 years would secure as many as three out of four tax-break-related points, but according to the state’s scoring criteria, available on the state housing authority’s website,  the percentage and duration requirements indicate as little as a 50% tax break, and no more than 75%, would earn the project the points.

That prompted some alternative suggestions on Aug. 5, such as lowering the tax break to 50%, which Hayes said he preferred.

“That makes about a $900,000 difference to taxpayers,” he told The Forecaster.

Hayes said the discovery of other tax break-related options worried him, because it shows that there may be other details still unexplored.

“It just puts an antenna up for me: What else don’t we know?” he said.

There isn’t a lot of time for the council to find out. The project was supposed to be first presented months ago, but the pandemic delayed the proposal’s introduction until the July 15 workshop. Brooks Moore, director of development for the South Portland Housing Authority, said he has to meet a Sept. 24 deadline to submit the council’s approval to the state. That means, according to the town council’s meeting calendar, that the council will only have the chance to meet — and act— on the proposal three more times.

Hayes said while he approves of the project in concept, and isn’t casting blame anywhere for the tight timeline, he is not sure there is enough time to fully examine the proposal.

“I don’t think we’ve taken the proper amount of time to do due diligence,” he said.

Gleysteen also said she supports the project in principle, and she supports the authority, saying, “They’re a great organization. They do good work,” but cited lingering questions, such as what the ultimate impact on the town’s infrastructure and services would be, that are leaving her concerned, too.

“I don’t have reservations about this project, but I still have questions,” she said.

The council is expected to discuss the project again during its Aug. 19 meeting.

Sean Murphy 780-9094

Email: [email protected]

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