When Raymelle Moody moved out of her longtime downtown Belfast apartment last fall she looked online, in local papers and tried word of mouth to find an affordable apartment in town. Most apartments were out of her price range, forcing her to move to Unity, then to Waldo before finding housing she could afford.

She has worked in the Belfast service industry for 20 years and owns the Moody Dog food truck. She said she was aware of rising housing costs in the area because she had heard about other service industry workers’ experiences, but had not experienced the severity herself until last fall.

With a yearly income of $35,000 to $40,000, she figured she could afford up to $1,000 monthly rent, but said she had difficulty finding apartments within that budget.

The fair market value of a one-bedroom apartment in Belfast during 2019 was $777, according to the U.S. Office of Housing and Urban Development. That number is down this year to $728 after at least four years of upward momentum.

The average household income in Belfast for 2018 was $60,993, according to the U.S. Census. Median gross rent was $812 during that same period. However, average income for a single earner in 2018 was $32,286. The median gross rent for that year was about 30% of the average income for a single earner before taxes and other household bills.

Moody decided to speak at the city’s July 28 listening session on its plan to sell the old public works property on Congress Street to a developer for low-income housing. She wanted the 80 other residents at the session to understand that housing costs have become a predominant issue for workers in Belfast and to show her support for the City Council initiative.

“Definitely over the last few years I’ve seen it go up and up and up,” Moody said. “I think what they’re doing is exactly what they should be doing.”

A friend of Moody’s in the neighborhood told her some of the misconceptions residents in the area had about low-income housing. Moody said the type of housing being proposed for the site is for people like her.

“I wanted to go and show them what that face looks like, and that it's not that unsavory group they think about,” she said.

Developers Collaborative is proposing a 36-unit low-income single- and family-housing complex on the old public works site. And there will be an additional 12 units at market price with no income restrictions.

Those eligible for the housing may earn no more than 60% of the county’s median income, which comes out to $32,340 for a two-person household, according to the company's director of affordable housing, Laura Reading.

City councilors have been discussing having a low-income housing development on the site for a number of years. They decided not to issue a request for proposals from other companies because the council had a specific vision for the site, Developers Collaborative has developed nearly 700 low-income housing units across the state, including one progressing in Belfast, and time was short for submitting an application for housing credits, which is due Sept. 24, according to Economic Development Director Thomas Kittredge.

Reading said applying for the credits is "really competitive," and only about five projects are funded each year. She predicted that a project like this could cost about $10 million.

As for attracting “unsavory” tenants, she said that is a product of bad management and her company will continue to monitor housing and its residents to ensure that everyone in the development is following rules and mandates.

“We're making progress toward our submission and Planning Board,” she said, “looking forward to working with the community and building a project that everybody can be proud of, or at least most people.”

The company is also building a 25-unit income-based senior housing project on Wight Street, which is one reason the council feels confident that the company can develop low-income housing on this site, Mayor Eric Sanders said.

He said most people at the July listening session were supportive of the project, but there were some who had misconceptions about low-income individuals, possibly based on common cultural stereotypes. He said one resident stood up and yelled profanities at him during the listening session.

Other people thought the council was rushing the project, but Sanders said there is a tight timetable for the company to get housing credits and most people were unaware that councilors had been discussing low-income housing possibilities on the site for over 10 years.

A request for proposals would have taken more time and pushed the development back, he said. Belfast needs affordable housing now, he added, and councilors did not want to put that off any longer.

The council recently voted to create a tax increment financing district at the site, with half of the funds over 30 years going to Developers Collaborative for the site. The TIF, Kittredge said, is meant to make the company’s state application more competitive.

Sanders said he understands that people are wary of new developments in their neighborhoods, but he and the other councilors want there to be diversity on all levels in the city. He does not want to see Belfast become another Camden.

“It’s change; change is never easy for anyone,” he said. “People are protective of their neighborhood … what people need to realize is that we’re protective of their neighborhood and the city, as well.”