Thornton Heights Commons, a 42-unit affordable housing project in South Portland, is expected to be ready for tenants next month. Drew Johnson / The Forecaster

Next month’s planned opening of Thornton Heights Commons, an affordable housing project in South Portland, will “take a small dent out of the need for affordable housing in the area,” according to South Portland Housing Authority Executive Director Mike Hulsey.

“We have a waitlist of well over 300 people, so filling the 42 units will not be a problem,”  Hulsey said.

The housing authority has other plans in the works to make a bigger dent in the waiting list, including a senior apartment complex adjacent to Landry Village, an addition to the Betsy Ross House and another senior development in Scarborough.

Thornton Heights Commons has 25 one-bedroom, 10 two-bedroom and seven three-bedroom apartments as well as three commercial spaces on the first floor.

Landry Woods is a senior housing project planned next to the Landry Village complex off Westbrook Street in South Portland. Contributed / South Portland Housing Authority

About 80% of the apartments are subsidized, and 20% are at market rate, according to Brooks More, the housing authority’s director of development. The affordable units will start at $871 for one bedroom, $1,046 for two and $1,209 for three. The market-rate one-bedroom units will start at $1,350.

There is a severe shortage of affordable housing in Maine with 19,031 extremely low-income renters in need, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

Housing is considered affordable if the household spends no more than 30% of their income on “housing-related costs” such as rent, mortgage payments, utilities, insurance and maintenance, according to the Maine State Housing Authority. In Maine, there are over 41,000 renter households that are considered extremely low income, the NLIHC says. Of those 41,000, 37% are disabled and 30% are seniors.

Around the corner from Thornton Heights Commons, South Portland Housing is close to wrapping up its plans for Landry Woods, a 43-unit building off Westbrook Street that will be available to those 55 and older. It will be located next to the existing Landry Village, which has 50 units of senior public housing, eight for family housing and 10 for the physically disabled, Hulsey said.

The South Portland City Council will vote at an upcoming meeting on zoning amendments to permit the new building at the site of Landry Village’s current maintenance facility.

A planned 60-plus standalone building at The Betsy Ross House, located at 99 Preble St. Ext., will have roughly 52 units and have a connecting hallway between it and the existing complex, Hulsey said. The City Council recently approved a zoning change to allow the addition.

“We’re currently in the design phase and looking to go to the planning board for site-plan approval in the near future,” he said.

Betsy Ross House

The South Portland Housing Authority wants to build a 55-unit expansion to the Betsy Ross House independent living apartment complex. Contributed / CHA Architecture

The Betsy Ross House currently has 123 units with a mix of affordable and market rates.

The housing authority is also working to help solve the affordable housing problem outside city limits. It proposed a 60-unit, 55+ building, Jocelyn Place, in July of 2020. The following September, the Scarborough Town Council approved a credit enhancement agreement for the $14 million project. Construction on the project in Oak Hill at the corner of Little Dolphin Avenue and Access Road likely begins in the spring, More said.

Meanwhile, construction on Thornton Heights Commons is “98% complete,” More said. “It’s looking like we’re going to start occupying the building in December.”

The three commercial units on the first floor have piqued some interest.

“We have letters of intent for two of the spaces,” More said, one from a Middle Eastern takeout restaurant and the other from a Caribbean market.

The third space is the largest and while there “isn’t anything concrete,” Hulsey said, they know how they’d like to fill it.

“We were hoping to get an actual grocery store or market,” he said. “We don’t have anything solid yet.”

There are also plans for a park to be built on the property.

“We have a large lot and we’re going to create a pocket park for the neighborhood,” Hulsey said.

While there are no final drawings of the park as of now, More has a vision in mind.

“It’s going to be grass, benches, landscaping and a small number of raised beds for residents to use as a garden,” he said, adding that he could even see a gazebo being installed in the middle of the park.

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