Brian Eng, a developer from Portland, is turning his Airbnb in downtown Skowhegan into workforce housing. He’s seen, Dec. 7, standing outside the building on Court Street. Anna Chadwick/Morning Sentinel

SKOWHEGAN — Brian Eng isn’t from Skowhegan. And until three years ago, he had only driven through a handful of times.

But the Portland-based developer sees an exciting future for this mill town on the Kennebec River.

“The people here are such good people,” Eng said. “Just seeing how much they care … It was really hard to not want to be a part of that, frankly.”

That’s why Eng is planning to convert a historic downtown property into five workforce apartments. The move comes as Maine grapples with a statewide housing crisis, which Eng and others said is being felt acutely in more rural areas, like Skowhegan.

Eng’s plans for 31 Court St. — located between the Somerset County Superior Courthouse and the Spotlight Cinemas at The Strand movie theater — call for two studio apartments, a one-bedroom apartment, a two-bedroom apartment and one three-bedroom apartment.

The project was approved by the town’s Planning Board in November. Eng previously received a $25,000 tax-increment financing grant from the town to develop the plans, he said.


Brian Eng plans to convert his Airbnb on Court Street in Skowhegan into workforce housing. Anna Chadwick/Morning Sentinel

Though some details still need to be worked out, Eng hopes to apply for financing through MaineHousing’s Rural Affordable Rental Housing Program to complete the renovation. That would mean rents would be capped at 80% of the area median income level for 45 years.

Eng, along with partners Sam Hight and Kara Wilbur, used the same program to fund a $10 million housing project at 55 Weston Ave. in Madison. That project broke ground in October.

Since his Tangaroa Partners company bought it in 2022, Eng has been using most of the 5,600-square-foot house as a short-term Airbnb rental. There is also one separate apartment and an office space rented out long-term.

“The Airbnb is fine. It’s serving a purpose,” Eng said. “But I really prefer the idea of being able to create housing for people who are going to come here and make permanent, ongoing contributions to the community.”

Skowhegan currently does not have a sufficient stock of smaller units needed by younger working professionals and seniors looking to downsize from larger homes, Eng said.

Major employers, such as the Sappi paper mill, New Balance and Redington-Fairview General Hospital are growing, which is driving demand for housing, according to Jeff Hewett, Skowhegan’s director of economic and community development.


“We’re below what we need for the increase in workers that we’re going to see,” Hewett said.

An Airbnb in downtown Skowhegan is to be converted into workforce housing, according to owner Brian Eng. Anna Chadwick/Morning Sentinel

And new projects like Main Street Skowhegan’s proposed Skowhegan River Park only stand to drive demand higher, according to a 2021 housing study commissioned by the nonprofit. The report found a growing demand for housing in the town, with a “very low” vacancy rate of 0.9% for rentals at the time.

In Skowhegan, new, larger housing developments, including the renovation of the former Solon Manufacturing mill and the affordable units at 26 Mary St., are beginning to address the problem.

And Eng is one of many to convert a larger property into smaller units, according to Hewett.

“We’ve been fighting housing for a while now,” Hewett said.

For Eng, the decision to convert the house into apartments may not be a money-maker. “It’s hard to say,” he said.


If he secures financing from MaineHousing’s program, Eng would essentially get back the money he has already invested in the property, but would be locked in to the cap on rent that the program requires for 45 years, he said.

“But I’m OK with that,” Eng said.

Eng, who grew up in New York City and moved to Maine in 2007, first came to Skowhegan working as a consultant for Maine Grains’ owner Amber Lambke.

“I kind of fell in love with what (Lambke) has done and the rest of Skowhegan,” Eng said.

In 2022, 31 Court St. went on the market, and Eng’s real estate company bought it.

Walter Scott Stinchfield, a physician whose family originally settled in New Gloucester in 1753, and his wife, Mary, built the house in 1904, according to Eng. It stayed in the family for nearly 120 years, at times also housing a medical practice and later a barber shop and bail-bond business owned by Ronald “Pop” Hall, according to Eng. Hall’s children sold him the house when it became too big and expensive for them.

“I thought it was a beautiful building,” Eng said. “And I was taken by it.”

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