Paul Linet, left, founder and president of 3i Housing of Maine, and Cory Fellows, vice president of real estate development at Preservation of Affordable Housing Inc., at the site in The Downs in Scarborough where they plan to build a 51-unit fully accessible, affordable apartment building. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

When Paul and Susan Linet moved to Maine almost 20 years ago, the couple couldn’t find housing that was accessible for Susan, whose mobility was impaired by multiple sclerosis.

They were fortunate to have the resources to build an addition onto their home so she could live comfortably, Paul Linet said.

But he knows not all families have that option.

When Susan was diagnosed, “I remember the neurologist pulling me aside and saying, ‘A person with your wife’s condition would probably need to be placed in an institution,’ ” Linet said. “I felt the hair stand on the back of my neck. … It was a rude awakening.”

When his wife died in 2016, Linet decided he wanted to improve housing conditions for people with physical and mobility disabilities.

“I recognized that others didn’t have the resources we had to make sure we could stay together and thrive,” he said.

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Linet, who lives in Durham, founded 3i Housing of Maine, a nonprofit working to create independent, community-based living options for people with disabilities. According to Linet, the mission of 3i Housing is innovation, independence and integration.

The nonprofit’s first project, a 51-unit, fully accessible apartment building at The Downs in Scarborough, is moving forward after a $5.4 million boost from MaineHousing’s Low Income Housing Tax Credit program.

Linet partnered with Boston-based Preservation of Affordable Housing Inc. to tackle the development.

“We know there is a need,” Linet said. Crews are still months out from breaking ground and inquiries are already coming in from all over, he said.

He believes the project offers an opportunity to set a national standard for what stable, affordable and accessible housing can be.

DESIGNED TO COMPLY WITH ADA

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The 51 apartments will be designed to comply with or exceed Americans with Disabilities Act standards. Each apartment will feature reachable sinks, appliances and storage spaces, and roll-in showers. The ceilings will be reinforced to support a lift if needed. The overall footprints of the apartments and common spaces will be wider to accommodate wheelchair users.

The units also will offer individually tailored assistive technology and other features to help tenants maintain autonomy, such as voice-controlled window shades and HVAC systems.

The units will be designed to “plug and play” – the features might change depending on what assistive technologies each tenant needs, but the underlying infrastructure will be in place to support them, said Cory Fellows, vice president of real estate development at Preservation of Affordable Housing.

Enock Glidden, development coordinator for Maine Adaptive Sports and Recreation, said assistive technology is often out of reach for those who need it.

“Either insurance won’t pay for it or the person can’t pay for it,” he said. “Having that available is going to be life-changing.”

Glidden, who was born with spina bifida and uses a wheelchair, said the project will “really change the face of housing for people.”

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The ground floor of the building will feature a designated workspace for health and human service providers and an entrepreneurial center with educational opportunities for assistive technology invention.

The Downs, the former Scarborough Downs racetrack, is the ideal spot for the housing development because of its centralized location to services and amenities, Linet said. He sees it as a pilot project for a model that could spread across the state and country.

A specially equipped bus will help take residents to and from work, thanks to a $127,000 grant from the Maine Department of Transportation.

Rents for the one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments would range from about $1,000 to $2,200 per month. The units are on track to open in late 2026.

Financing for the project has been somewhat “cobbled together” from public and private grants and partnerships Fellows said. To qualify for assistance from agencies like MaineHousing, the core affordable housing construction and design costs have to be separated from the assistive technology costs. Fellows estimated construction and design costs will be about $18 million, with an additional $1 million to $2 million to outfit the units with the assistive technology.

HOPING TO PROVIDE AN EXAMPLE

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Fellows hopes the project’s success will pave the way for a smoother process for future undertakings.

“If we can demonstrate that this is an alternative model, hopefully these types of features can become more fully integrated into the core financing for this kind of project,” he said.

Maine is already grappling with a housing crisis. A historic underproduction of homes, some of the oldest housing stock in the country, an influx of in-migration, a changing labor force and a steep climb in home prices has snowballed, meaning there simply are not enough homes for all the people who need them.

Meanwhile, the closure of shared living facilities and nursing homes during the pandemic has made it more difficult for adults with disabilities to find adequate affordable housing.

“People who are of low income struggle and people who are of low income with disabilities are really up against it,” Linet said.

According to the National Disability Institute, 27% of Americans with disabilities are living in poverty, compared to 12% of people without disabilities.

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Less than 1% of housing units in the country are equipped with features that would allow a wheelchair user to live independently, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“The numbers are really staggering,” Linet said.

“Disability doesn’t distinguish between varying incomes,” said Mark Wiesendanger, development director for MaineHousing. “8% of Maine residents have mobility disabilities. That could be 8% of the wealthiest or 8% of the poorest and every income in between.”

MaineHousing has over 900 units of affordable housing in the pipeline, many of which will have accessible features, but Wiesendanger said this is the only project exclusively for people with disabilities.

MaineHousing doled out the funds because 3i’s application met the requirements for the agency’s low-income tax credit program, but Wiesendanger said it was nice “to know our funds are going to a very good cause.”

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