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November 20, 2020

Mixed-income building in Portland's East Bayside is more than just apartments, city says

Courtesy / Ben Walter, CWS Architects Solterra, a mixed-income apartment building owned by the Portland Housing Authority at 58 Boyd St., is completed and ready for tenants.

Construction wrapped up this week on Solterra, a 55-unit mixed-income apartment building at 58 Boyd St. in Portland, and backers of the project say it's more than just another step toward addressing the city's housing crisis — the building is designed to support the health and well-being of its residents.

The name is a play on the Italian sole e terra — "sun and earth" — a nod to the historic ethnicity of the East Bayside neighborhood, as well as the solar panels that provide energy for the building and its proximity to the city's urban gardens. Cultivating Community, a local food security, nutrition and farming nonprofit, is moving into the building's ground-floor commercial space.

The building was also built to be energy-efficient, will have free Wi-Fi for residents, and that internet hookup will allow them to take advantage of a telehealth program through Greater Portland Health.

The "forward-thinking design" provides cost savings that allowed for the building-wide Wi-Fi, so residents can access support services remotely, as well as onsite, said Cheryl Sessions, executive director of the Portland Housing Authority.

“The completion of Solterra during the COVID-19 pandemic is a true testament to the hard work and professionalism of all involved," Sessions said in a news release. "We kept workers safe while continuing on course to build this important housing within budget and with only minor delays."

City Councilor Jill Duson, chair of the council's Housing Committee, said that the committee, in 2018, specified a priority of supporting the housing authority in implementing its Strategic Vision Plan. The 58 Boyd St. project was specifically referenced by the committee.

“It's exciting to see this project come to fruition, adding much needed affordable units to East Bayside and the city as a whole," Duson said.

The front of a modern building with a sign that says Solterra 58 Boyd Street over the door with a brick sidewalk in front
Courtesy / Ben Walter, CWS Architects
Solterra, at 58 Boyd St., in Portland, is a mixed-income apartment building that also has ground-floor commercial space that will be occuped by Cultivating Community.

More than just apartments

The building was designed to accommodate social, physical and environmental needs of the community, said Ben Walter, president of CWS Architects. “In addition to quality of life and durability requirements, environmental sustainability was a keystone to the design process."

Solterra has 23 efficiency, 10 one-bedroom, 13 two-bedroom and nine three-bedroom apartments as well as ground-floor commercial space. The building also has community space, The Harvest Room, which is adjacent to the Boyd Street Urban Gardens. The onsite amenities include 23 parking spaces, 28 secure bicycle spaces inside the building, a laundry room, recycling and trash service and, eventually, composting service.

A grant from Efficiency Maine paid for installation of 145 solar photovoltaic panels on the roof, which will provide enough electricity to power all common area heating and cooling systems, interior and exterior lighting and hot water, as well as the commercial office space.

The free Wi-Fi will be subsidized in part by the solar array. Through a partnership with Greater Portland Health, residents will be able to meet with health care providers from home via telehealth connections.

Solterra will also have a part-time resident services coordinator available to meet with residents and facilitate connections to other support services nearby or on-site, including early childhood education resources, literacy training, after-school activities, employment services and workforce training.

Meeting housing needs

Avesta Housing will provide property management, leasing and coordination of resident services for Solterra.

Households earning below 60% of the area median income in Portland will have access to 80% of the apartments. The current AMI for the city is $70,630 for a one-person household, $100,900 for a four-person and $117,044 for a six-person household. There are no income restrictions on the other 20% of the apartments.

Rents range from $788 for an efficiency to $1,810 for a three-bedroom, and 28 of the units have project-based rental assistance, meaning the resident pays 30% of their income for the unit and the federal Housing Choice Voucher program covers the difference. 

The development was initiated in 2016, and got planning board approval in late 2017. It broke ground in May 2019, and the certificate of occupancy was issued in October.

"This project will increase the supply of affordable housing in the city at an especially critical time,” said Portland Mayor Kate Snyder. She said that the city is continuing to work on creating affordable housing through a variety of funding and government vehicles, as well as working with developers to help them secure low-income housing tax credits.

an under construction six story building with a garden in front
Photo / Noah Van Allen
Solterra, built next to the Boyd Street Community Gardens, was also designed to be energy efficent, and has a solar array on its roof.

Model for sustainable development

Walters, of CWS Architects, said extensive remediation of contaminated soil from the site was need before construction could start. He said the construction also incorporated quality materials, a robust exterior insulation envelope, as well as the solar array. "Solterra is a model sustainable residential development the community can be very proud of," he said.

Wright-Ryan Construction was construction manager of the project. The design team included CWS Architects, Carroll Associates Landscape Architects, Bennett Engineering, Ransom Consulting, Becker Structural Engineers, Sparhawk Group Commissioning, S.W. Cole Engineering, Owen Haskell Surveyors, Credere Associates Environmental Engineering, and owner representative Development Services of New England.

Financing came from MaineHousing, which ws the low income housing tax credit issuer; the city of Portland Affordable Housing Program, which is support by federal HOME funding, Bangor Savings Bank and Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston Affordable Housing Program, which provided a grant and subsidized loan; Evernorth/TD Bank, as the low income housing tax credits equity investor and Efficiency Maine Trust, with a solar photovoltaic grant.

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November 24, 2020
I follow this because my other and half my family was born in Bath. I visited there one summer when my mother was staying in town. I loved just about everything I experienced while there. Since then I have read your local news. The thing that always strikes me is the focus on housing and making it more affordable. Your state could teach others a trick or two.
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