Portland city councilors got a look Wednesday night at resources the city can use to help develop affordable housing.

During an hour-and-a-half workshop, the council discussed the HOME program and Community Development Block Grant funding, two federal programs that can be used to help finance affordable housing and related infrastructure, and the city’s Jill C. Duson Housing Trust Fund, a local resource to help offset the costs of creating affordable housing.

They also talked about the process for developing city-owned property into affordable housing and Portland’s goals.

The workshop was called at the request of Councilor Anna Trevorrow, who also serves on the city’s Land Bank Commission. She said the commission is often questioned about whether various properties have been considered for affordable housing.

“We often hear, ‘Have we pursued this property for affordable housing?’ We all know we’re in a huge housing crisis,” said Trevorrow, who said she wanted to provide a baseline for the council and public about the role the city can play in affordable housing development.

Interim Director of Housing and Economic Development Mary Davis told the council about some of the restrictions associated with the federal programs administered by the city, including income restrictions, rules on long-term affordability, and wage and labor standards for projects that receive federal assistance.


The Jill C. Duson Housing Trust Fund can be used to create and retain housing, particularly affordable housing, and to help address low-, very low- and median-income housing needs.

The funding is typically used to help “fill the gap” for funding a project, Davis said, with developers coming to the city to utilize the funding in conjunction with other sources such as low-income housing tax credits. There is currently a little over $9 million in the fund.

There are restrictions to using the money, including who the housing is affordable to, and projects must meet city underwriting requirements and comply with city regulations such as inclusionary zoning and land use code, Davis said.

She said the city hears from developers and MaineHousing that projects in Portland are costly, and that trying to get enough funding sources together can be difficult, which may affect how many applications the city receives.

“Through the low-income housing tax credit program and other financing programs, MaineHousing has, for instance … caps on development costs per unit and the development cost per unit in Portland far exceeds the cost in other areas,” she said. “They’re managing the fairness of how they use their money throughout the state.”

A typical housing project usually takes about two years to complete, Davis said, from the time a developer applies for funding subsidies through construction.


She said there are currently a handful of projects underway on city-owned property, including the Lambert Woods cooperative on Lambert Street in North Deering and another project of about 125 units at the site of the former West School on Douglass Street.

The city’s 2022 Housing Report, which went to the Housing and Economic Development Committee last week, noted the city is on track to exceed its strategic goal of building 2,557 new housing units between 2017 and 2027, or an average of 256 new units per year.

Councilor Andrew Zarro asked Wednesday whether that goal is too low, and if it’s something the city should reevaluate.

Christine Grimando, director of planning and urban development, told the council the goal number is based on how many people are living and working in the city, and the premise that everyone who works in the city should be able to live there. The city also has goals related to affordability, increasing supply and diversity of housing types, she said.

“There’s nothing to say if we meet this, we’re absolutely done,” Grimando said. “It’s a way to track reasonable growth over time. We’re absolutely on track to exceed it … We knew there are affordability problems and overall supply issues, so we continue to work towards that.”

Grimando said Portland is producing more housing per capita than other communities, not only in Maine, but also in larger out-of-state cities like San Francisco, Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts.

“We still have a housing supply and affordability issue, and we still need to try harder, but it’s not because we are producing less,” she said.

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