Avesta Housing is planning to build Firehouse Commons, a 31-unit affordable housing project for older residents, on a .44-acre parcel at 246 Route 1 in Scarborough. Contributed / Avesta Housing

Avesta Housing is planning to build a new, $5.5 million, 31-unit affordable housing project for older residents in Scarborough, which proponents say is needed in a tight housing market.

The project is proposed for a .44-acre parcel at 246 Route 1, just behind the former public safety building the town vacated and sold last year. Nathaniel Howes, development officer for Avesta, said the nonprofit bought the land from another developer last fall. Last week, Howes said, the Town Council approved a tax credit for the project that is paving the way for construction to begin in spring 2022.

According to town documents, the tax credit is part of the Downtown district, which has given credits to a number of developments, including projects on the 600-acre Downs property. The credit amounts to 75% over the next 20 years, or $555,440, according to the documents.

Howes said rents will range from $875 to $1,125 per month, catering to adults 55-plus with annual incomes below $42,000. Howes said that is the current definition of affordable housing, based on HUD and MaineHousing data.

The proposed building is the latest in a number of senior-focused housing projects in Scarborough, including Jocelyn Place, a $14 million, 60-unit project the South Portland Housing Authority is building in the same Oak Hill neighborhood, on the corner of Little Dolphin Avenue and Access Road.

The new housing, according to Bryan Shumway, chairperson of Scarborough Housing Alliances, may seem like a lot, but there is a high demand for affordable housing for older residents, he said, both locally and statewide.

“To a lot of people, it may seem like an oversupply is coming to the market, but the reality is, it’s just putting a dent in a very large need,” he said.

Data from various agencies points to the growing need for affordable senior housing over the past 10 years. According to the Maine State Housing Authority, the number of people age 65 and older in Scarborough with incomes below the poverty line went from 193 in 2012 to 224 in 2017, an increase of just over 16%.

Statewide, 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.”

Howes said Avesta’s study of statewide data also shows that in the greater Portland area, there were just over 3,100 potential applicants for affordable housing for elders in 2019, but that number has grown to 3,400 in 2021.

Anecdotally, Howes mentioned the Wessex Woods project Avesta built on Brighton Avenue in Portland. He said 1,000 people expressed interest in apartments there before construction was even finished, and when it was finished, Avesta averaged about 15 people moving in per month. Howes called that level of interest “pretty much unheard of,” and points further to the need for affordable housing for older residents in the area.

Howes said there has been some response to the growing need. Statewide, he said, Avesta and other developers are working to create new affordable housing for mature Mainers. He spoke to ongoing Avesta projects in Gorham, South Portland and Lewiston, and knew of others statewide.

“I think that we’ve got a lot coming online over the next few years,” he said. “There has been positive news in the right direction.”

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