Councilors discussed ways they can help Developers Collaborative to acquire housing credits through the state for its proposed affordable housing development on the city’s former Public Works property.

The company was short nine to 11 points when it first applied for the program in August 2020, Laura Reading of Developers Collaborative said. Points are calculated based on the application and used to determine what developments are eligible for the state’s housing credits.

The program to apply for the credits was highly competitive last summer, with the four top-scoring projects being from Portland, she said. She thinks it will be less competitive this year. City Manager Erin Herbig said the city was lucky to have the two Wight Street affordable housing development credits approved in the same year in 2019. Only four applications were submitted that year and just four awards were available.

The company will get six extra points just by going through the city’s permitting process, she said. Last summer the company did not have time to seek permits before applying for the credits.

Economic Development Director Thomas Kittredge identified three ways the city can assist Developers Collaborative in the state process. The combined efforts would garner an additional 12 points for the project, Kittredge said.

The city can apply for a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant to use for the project, he said. It could add three points to the project and would cost only city staff time.

A Community Revitalization Plan could increase the score by two points, he said. The city would identify a specific area or neighborhood in which to make economic development and affordable housing improvements, like adding sidewalks.

The third option, which would improve the score by one point, would be to allow the company to buy the city property for about $6,000, a decrease from the $136,000 the city is currently seeking, Kittredge said.

The land is valued at $267,800, according to 2020 tax commitment books, but councilors agreed to sell it for only the money it cost the city to clean the brownfields property up so it can be reused for housing.

Councilors have discussed the idea of an affordable housing project at the 115 Congress St. location since before the new Public Works building on Crocker Road was complete. The city paid for the site to be cleaned of toxic materials that accumulated over several decades of use and for the building to be removed.

During a public discussion in July 2020, shortly after Developers Collaborative’s project was announced, the city received mixed reactions from the public about the proposed affordable housing development.

Some residents did not want a project of that type in the area at all, some residents supported the project outright and some residents asked that the project build fewer units to create more space for tenants.

Councilor Mike Hurley said he gets calls and emails from interested people in the city's current affordable apartments about when the project will be built. The project will have five two-story buildings, for a total of 48 apartments on the property.

There will be a play area for young children and an area for a laundromat, kitchenette and event space, Reading said. There will be covered spaces for outdoor storage and yard areas to create a sense of community among renters. There will be 1 1/2 parking spaces per rental unit.

Native vegetative buffers will be planted around the property and there will be a sidewalk running along Congress Street in front of the property, she said, which pleased some of the councilors.

Councilor Mary Mortier said she thinks the designs fit into the neighborhood’s architecture. “It looks like it belongs in our community,” she said.

Mayor Eric Sanders said he was impressed with how well he could envision the project based on the company’s designs. He added that it seems bigger and more spacious than he previously thought.

The Planning Board will consider the preliminary plan review at a date to be determined in February.