BELFAST — Three affordable housing projects are either in development or recently opened in the city, but that is still not enough to ease the city’s housing crunch.

Economic Development Director Thomas Kittredge thinks the city needs more housing units, both for low-income individuals and for those who can afford market rates.

Developers Collaborative has opened its income-based housing development for older adults at 75 Wight St. The company has filled 21 units so far, according to C&C Realty Management Director of Property Management Amy Babb. C&C is Developers Collaborative’s property manager for the Wight Street project and another proposed housing project on Congress Street.

The company is still working to fill the last four units at the Wight Street development and has 10 people left on its waiting list, she said. Because the development is already nearly full, that waiting list is going to continue to grow.

People tend to stay in elderly income-based apartments until they cannot live independently, she said. Because there is not a lot of turnover for those types of units, it is not unusual for someone to be on a waiting list for a year or longer after submitting an application.

Babb’s company manages about 60 properties across Maine, and she is seeing that there is a mismatch between the need for affordable housing and the availability of such units, she said. “We have people waiting everywhere,” she said.

“The current rental market is outpacing the rate of inflation,” she said. “… Because there is such limited housing stock, the amount of rent is just far surpassing (what) people can afford.”

Developers Collaborative is also planning to build 36 affordable units at 115 Congress St. with no age restriction, Director of Affordable Housing Laura Reading said. The company hopes to break ground on that project in late spring or early summer.

Last spring, the city took a series of measures to help the company secure MaineHousing credits for the Congress Street project. The city applied, and was approved for, a Community Development Block Grant on behalf of the project and developed a community revitalization plan, which helped Developers Collaborative secure the credits last year.

Another developer, Realty Resources, will open 25 units at its 80 Wight St. development this year for income-eligible elderly individuals. It is processing applicants on its wait list, but there are more people on the list than there are units available, though some of those on the wait list are not looking to move until later this year but want to remain on the list for now, occupancy specialist Kimberley Lowe said.

Belfast Acres, 80 Wight St., Belfast. Photo by Kendra Caruso

She said the company’s elderly housing developments in Belfast tend not to have  high turnover and there is typically a two-year waiting period from the time when an application is submitted. “This development, along with other new developments in the area, are so needed,” she said. “Every bit helps, but there is still a great need.”

Most elderly people in the area are solely reliant on Social Security income and cannot afford market-rate rental units, she said. These income-based units are fixed at 30% of tenants’ monthly income. It allows them to live independently and stay close to their families.

The city created a tax-increment financing district encompassing the Wight Street developments to help the developers’ applications to MaineHousing score better, increasing their chances of being chosen for housing credits.

Median rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Belfast was $1,228 with utilities, according to the MaineHousing affordability index. In 2020, the yearly median income for a renter in the city was $38,528, but the median yearly income needed to afford median rent for a two-bedroom apartment was $49,117.

The median income needed to afford median rent for a two-bedroom apartment has nearly doubled since 2017, when it was $28,691, according to MaineHousing. In 2020, nearly 57% of households could not afford the median rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Belfast. Information for years 2018 and 2019 was not listed.

Kittredge said the city has tried to quantify the need for housing. As part of the city’s Brownfields Revitalization Study, it was estimated that 150 new housing units in the downtown area alone could easily be filled over the next five years. And if the study were expanded to cover the whole city, he thinks that estimate would be much higher.

The housing need does not just affect renters; it could also have an impact on economic development, he said. It could be difficult for businesses to expand if there is a shortage of employees in the area because potential workers cannot find housing reasonably close to where they work.

While the housing projects are eagerly anticipated, he knows there is more work to be done and does not think this will be the last effort to address housing issues in Belfast.

“At this point, we need as much as we can get,” he said. “And so those three projects are very welcomed additions. We’re very excited about them. We don’t think that is the end of it and we have some more work to do beyond that.”

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