The West End Apartments building by Avesta Housing under construction last week at 600 Westbrook St. in South Portland. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

SOUTH PORTLAND — Asylum seekers staying in local hotels could begin moving into 52 new apartments on Westbrook Street in a few weeks.

Avesta Housing, Greater Portland’s largest nonprofit affordable housing provider, has received an occupancy permit for the second phase of its West End Apartment complex and plans to begin leasing the units to asylum seekers.

Initially slated to open last fall, West End II has been delayed several months because of building supply chain disruptions and labor shortages, said Avesta spokesman Rod Harmon.

The project at 600 Westbrook St. got its occupancy permit last week, but the contractor still has to work through a punch list of final tasks, such as touching up paint and checking utility systems, Harmon said. Tenants have been selected and notified and will start moving in early next month.

While the apartments aren’t permanently reserved for asylum seekers, Harmon said, Avesta gave preference to migrants who have been housed in local hotels because Portland’s emergency shelters are full and affordable apartments are scarce in southern Maine.

“We received over 1,000 applications for 52 apartments,” Harmon said.


Avesta also gives preference to people who are homeless, veterans, disabled or over age 60, he said.

“In this case, the preference was asylum seekers experiencing homelessness,” he said.

Harmon said 20% of Avesta’s 3,300 apartments in southern Maine and New Hampshire are leased to recent immigrants, including asylum seekers.

Avesta tried to secure additional housing for asylum seekers by purchasing Winchester Woods, a 48-unit apartment complex under construction in Portland’s East Deering neighborhood, but that deal fell through. Avesta has no active plans to develop additional housing for asylum seekers, Harmon said.

The new housing comes as high numbers of new Mainers continue to come into Portland.

Portland is providing emergency shelter to more than 950 people nightly, including homeless individuals and asylum seekers. A recent influx of families have slept sitting in chairs in the city’s crowded family shelter. About 800 homeless individuals and asylum seekers are being sheltered in South Portland hotels.


The South Portland City Council has extended the deadline to April 30 for when the hotels must resume normal operations allowed under their municipal licenses. The council also has enacted an eviction moratorium and rent cap, and it’s working on a rent control proposal and zoning changes that would allow nonprofits to open homeless shelters in the city.

Given the urgency of housing and homeless challenges, Mayor Kate Lewis welcomed the pending completion of West End II.

“This type of housing can’t come soon enough and we need more of it,” Lewis said.

Lewis said she hoped that West End II will house many of the families who have been living in South Portland hotels, so their children will be able to maintain some stability in continuing to attend city schools.

Harmon said some West End II tenants probably will come from South Portland hotels, but he couldn’t say how many.

When Avesta officials were planning the West End project, they said it would cost an estimated $28 million overall and add a total of 90 subsidized and 26 market-rate apartments to the rental market in South Portland.


It was financed with a combination of low-income federal housing tax credits from MaineHousing, federal HOME funds awarded by Cumberland County, tax-increment financing from the city, and grants and subsidized permanent loans.

West End I, a 64-unit, mixed-income project at 586 Westbrook St. that cost $13 million, opened in 2021.

The rents at West End II will be funded with a portion of $22 million that the Legislature earmarked in last year’s state budget for emergency housing needs across Maine, said Scott Thistle, MaineHousing spokesman.

A $1.54 million escrow account has been set up to cover rental fees for two years while tenants navigate the asylum process, get work permits, find jobs and become part of the community, he said. Additional supports have been funded to help residents through the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project and Hope Acts, a nonprofit that assists asylum seekers.

Avesta didn’t respond to questions about the final cost of West End II, how much funding it received last year or how much tenants will pay for rent.

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