The Biddeford District Court is one of three now-vacant courthouses that could be turned into affordable housing. Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

Three former courthouses in York County may be converted into affordable housing.

The project could put a dent in a critical housing shortage statewide and give new life to the old district courthouses in Biddeford, Sanford and York that closed when the state opened a new York Judicial Center last year.

The Legislature’s Joint Select Committee on Housing held a public hearing Tuesday on L.D. 2277, a bill that would authorize the Maine Department of Administrative and Financial Services to sell the courthouses so they can be repurposed as housing.

It’s unclear exactly how many dwelling units would result from the plan or what they would cost to rent or buy, but a state official and representatives of local housing authorities said Tuesday that the projects would likely include some sort of affordability provisions.

“Anything we do or that any other housing authority does will be affordable, even if it doesn’t have to be,” said Guy Gagnon, executive director of the Biddeford Housing Authority. “It depends on what we get for funding. With MaineHousing or any type of grant there are usually restrictions on income. But there is no plan yet for what the funding will be. It’s really early at this point.”

Several people testified in support of the bill – and no one against – and the committee moved quickly into a work session where they voted to endorse the bill. It now advances to votes in the House and Senate.


“These buildings are well-situated for meeting our housing needs and represent a logical reuse of state facilities,” said Rep. Traci Gere, D-Kennebunkport, the bill’s sponsor.


State law gives MaineHousing or local housing authorities first right to purchase state property, but state and public housing officials said the provision has rarely been taken advantage of.

Biddeford District Courthouse. Lawmakers in Augusta are considering a bill that would allow the state to sell three former courthouses in Biddeford, York and Sanford for redevelopment into housing. The courthouses are currently vacant after closing last year when the state opened the York Judicial Center. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

“Typically MaineHousing tells us, ‘Thanks but no thanks’ because the property we intend to sell is of little interest to them and the property or location doesn’t lend itself to the development of housing,” said Anya Trundy, chief of legislative and strategic operations for the financial services department.

“But with these three properties there was immediate recognition of the buildings’ potential to be repurposed for housing and their favorable locations and proximity to amenities.”

The courts are located at 25 Adams St. in Biddeford, 447 Main St. in the Springvale village of Sanford, and 11 Chases Pond Road in York. All three district courts closed when the state moved last year to open a new consolidated York Judicial Center.


The York County Superior Court in Alfred also moved into the new center, but officials at the time said the county-owned building in Alfred would remain open for probate court proceedings, the registry of deeds and other county-related functions.

Local housing authorities in all three communities have expressed interest in the properties and Trundy said the state is prepared to offer them “for a nominal amount.”

“Our hope is this will help to jump-start these properties’ redevelopment as housing,” she said.


The buildings are in relatively good condition and MaineHousing has already determined they can be converted into housing. While the buildings sit vacant, the cost of their upkeep is $355,000 annually, Trundy said.

Gagnon said new construction costs are about $350 to $400 per square foot and that costs for remodeling the Biddeford courthouse would be far less.


“Having infrastructure like this in place, especially where the courthouse is in pretty good shape, it will really be a matter of redesigning,” he said. “We’re way ahead of the game on the cost spectrum. That’s not something we have happen to us very often.”

Gagnon said he didn’t have an estimate yet of how many units could go into the courthouse. “It’s still very early,” he said, noting that the full Legislature still needs to approve the proposal.

Some lawmakers Tuesday questioned whether the units would be affordable and if local communities are receptive to the projects.

“I think this should happen but my concern is, we just watched an affordable housing project get shut down in Cumberland,” said Rep. Cheryl Golek, D-Harpswell, referring to a 107-unit project that voters in that town rejected in a referendum earlier this month. “What happens to this building if NIMBYism comes in and tries to shut it down?” Golek asked.

Gagnon said he thinks that’s unlikely.

“If anything, I’ll put in a plug for the city of Biddeford administration,” he said. “They’ve been extremely supportive … There’s a lot of momentum around solving the housing crisis.”


Erik Jorgensen, senior director of government relations and communications at MaineHousing, told the committee that if local housing authorities seek funding from the state housing authority, which is likely, they would be subject to income restrictions on who they can rent to.

“If they’re coming to us for financing, they wouldn’t be converted into market rate housing,” Jorgensen said. “It would be affordable housing.”

Jorgensen said after the meeting that different types of funding come with different affordability provisions and that if the local authorities apply for federal low-income housing tax credits, for example, the housing would be restricted to people earning 60 percent or less of the area median income.

Diane Small, executive director of the Sanford Housing Authority, said the agency is working on a feasibility study now so they can acquire the Sanford property. “Depending on the funding, that will drive what income level we serve,” Small said in an email.

She said the housing authority thinks the location would be perfect for senior housing and they are looking at something to serve people age 55 and over. “We will continue to assess and do a program that maximizes the space and serves the Sanford-Springvale community,” Small said.

Several lawmakers from York County testified in support of the bill Tuesday, including Rep. Marc Malon, D-Biddeford, who called it a “no-brainer” for his community.

“I know the conversion of the York and Sanford buildings will also benefit those communities’ goals and the overall health of York County because, after all, housing is a regional and statewide concern,” Malon said.

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