A developer looking to build affordable housing in Bath withdrew its application following a lukewarm reception from some city councilors and two residents, but the area’s need for more affordable housing remains.

Bath City Planner Ben Averill said Realty Resources Management, a Rockport-based property management company, withdrew its building application last week. It was planning a 30-unit workforce housing development on Oak Grove Avenue. Averill said the company didn’t explain why it withdrew its applications or whether it plans to re-apply in the future.

Realty Resources Management did not return requests for comment Monday or Tuesday seeking information about why it backed out or whether it plans to re-apply.

Resident and former Bath City Councilor John James said he was “relieved” to hear the developer withdrew the proposal after he spoke against the the project earlier this month. James argued Bath “more than fulfilled our social responsibility and obligation for subsidized and affordable housing” compared to nearby communities.

According to the Maine State Housing Authority, Bath, with a population of just over 8,000, is home to 13 affordable housing developments, eight of which are age restrictive, that either offer income-based housing or rent-restrictive housing. Nearby Topsham, with a population of nearly 9,000, has four affordable housing options. Brunswick, with a population over 20,000, has 12.

Bath Housing Executive Director Deborah Keller, however, pushed back against the idea that a community can have it’s “fair share” of affordable housing.

“Providing safe, affordable, energy efficient homes for Bath residents is far more than simply meeting some arbitrary quota,” Keller wrote in a letter to city councilors. “It is part of being a caring, inclusive community. But there are those who claim that affordable housing is somehow a burden on a community, and that every community should bear the same burden.”

According to the State Housing Authority, a median two-bedroom home in Sagadahoc County carried a $1,011 monthly rent fee. This means a Sagadahoc County resident needs a $40,423 annual income, or hourly wage of $19.43, to afford to rent a median two-bedroom home.

Between 2015 and 2019, Bath households earned a median annual income of $38,252, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Almost 14% of Bath residents lived below the poverty line as of 2019.

Fifty-three percent of Sagadahoc County residents are unable to afford to rent a median two-bedroom home, according to the state housing authority.

James agreed that the Bath area needs more housing, but added “we need to create workforce housing that’s taxed at 100% of value.”

“Bath officials should stop offering and approving TIFs for virtually every new construction project and development in town,” James said, referring to Tax Increment Financing, a deal that funnels any increased tax revenue in a specific place toward specific purposes instead of a municipality’s general fund. In an affordable housing TIF district, communities use the incremental tax revenues from that district to help make the housing affordable and to pay for related costs.

If awarded the TIF district designation and subsequent tax credit, the city would have refunded 50% of the housing development’s taxes, totaling $40,106 annually to Realty Resources Management.

“Southern Maine has a separate need for condominiums, apartments and houses in the $200,000 to $350,000 range for young professionals who can’t afford Portland,” James said.

Keller again rejected the idea that subsidized housing hurts a community. Instead, she stated that providing housing for all residents, regardless of age, profession or income, helps a community thrive, especially when Bath — and the state — face a hiring shortage.

“Providing a range of housing options will improve our community, and right now, there just aren’t enough housing units to meet the changing needs and growing workforce in the region,” Keller wrote in an email to The Times Record. “Local service agencies including Bath Housing have seen a significant uptick in calls for people that need housing in the region to accept job offers here. With the current constrained supply, we have seen escalating rents and home prices in the region, making it even harder to meet current demand. We are at a point where the economic development of our region will be thwarted due to lack of housing stock to meet the area needs.”

The development would have held 18 two-bedroom units, nine three-bedroom units, and three four-bedroom units, according to the company’s Chief Financial Officer Bill Pearse.

Monthly rent would have been $830-$1,450, based on whether a tenant earns 50%, 60% or 80% of the area median income, to address the area’s need for more affordable housing.

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