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August 26, 2020

Proposed Portland co-op development addresses housing 'missing middle'

a rendering of a green space with 46 small houses grouped together Courtesy / Aceto Landscape Architects A rendering shows plans for both phases of Lambert Village, a cooperative housing development, in Portland's North Deering neighborhood.

A proposal for up to 46 single-family homes on 13 long-neglected acres in Portland may at first glance seem like another needed "affordable housing" development, but it's actually something more.

The project, which would be the city's first housing co-op, addresses the missing middle — those who don't make enough money to buy a house in Portland, but make too much money to qualify for low-income housing. All of the homes would be for those making between 60% and 100% of the area median income. In Portland, $70,630 is the AMI for a one-person household, and it rises up to $117,044 for a six-person household.

Members of a co-op own the development as a whole and pay shares, or leases, on their property that covers the overall mortgage, maintenance and other expenses.

"That's the beauty of this project," said developer Brian Eng, of Maine Cooperative Development Partners, a group that has proposed the project for Portland's North Deering neighborhood. "We're talking about new Americans, teachers, firefighters, people who can't afford to buy a house in Portland."

The project was approved by the Portland Economic Development Committee, and staff is negotiating a purchase and sale agreement for approval by the city council. The project also needs a rezoning or contract zone to accommodate the cluster-style layout. 

The city-owned land near the Falmouth line became available, along with lots on Randall and  Douglass streets, earlier this year, when the city put out a request for proposals to sell the property to developers who would build more housing, part of the city's plan to add 2,257 housing units by 2027.

A neighborhood for everyone

Maine Cooperative Development Partners seek to acquire the site for Lambert Village from the city at no cost, to balance the cost of construction and make the homes affordable. Much of the $7.42 million cost to development the project would be through a HUD 2013 program loan.

"The number one motivation is the housing crisis we're feeling in Portland right now," said Eng. Eng is probably better known for larger commercial developments, like the $90 million Pearl Street Riverfront District on the former Maine Energy Recovery Co. site in Bidderford with Jim Brady, of Fathom Cos.

The co-op housing concept isn't new, but it's relatively rare in Maine. Residents who are part of a co-op share ownership of the housing, which can be anything from apartments to single-family homes. 

The co-op model is made possible through the state's Maine Cooperative Affordable Housing Act, which allows limited equity housing ownership and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development 213 Program, which insures cooperative housing mortgages.

Some notable projects are the 10 manufactured home communities in the state that are now resident-owned with help from ROC USA, which works with CDI, and Raise-Op, in Lewiston, where residents of three apartment buildings own 13 units. 

Eng said he doesn't see the project as departure from his other work — he's developed a variety of housing units and is also on the board of board of UHAB, which manages 20,000 units of cooperative housing in New York.

He grew up in New York City in market-rate co-op housing and after a conversation with Doug Clopp, director of development and communications at at CDI, he started thinking about developing co-op housing in Portland.

"When I get excited about something, I start reaching out to people," Eng said.

A development group soon was formed, that now includes principals Eng, Matt Peters and Liz Trice; CDI, including staff Julian Rowand, Arthur Sabiti and Jonah Fertig-Burd; Andy Reicher, of UHAB; BrightBuilt Homes, an affiliate of Kaplan Thompson Architects; Mike White, of Island Carpentry; Aceto Landscape Architects; and Acorn Engineering.

A community for everybody

The proposal calls for a pedestrian-friendly, closely knit “pocket neighborhood” of energy efficient factory-built, single-family homes on two lots that total 13.39 acres. The 1,250-square foot houses will have three bedrooms and two bathrooms. The first phase would include 20 homes, and a second phase that could add as many as 26. Depending on the rezoning, some of the units may be duplexes. The timetable, if all goes as planned, would allow for occupancy in fall 2022.

Developers say the co-op model means there will be a variety of income levels among residents, and the size of the homes will appeal to a variety of age groups — young couples, families and empty-nesters.

A group of more than 20 households of prospective residents has been meeting for more than a year, including established immigrant families "that share a vision of mixed-income ownership housing with shared community facilities and outdoor space," the proposal said. "The development team will continue to work with these residents to crystalize their vision and recruit more households."

The co-op model helps forge community relationships, the development group said in its proposal to the city. The layout of the neighborhood, too, will have a community feel, with the houses facing each other across a green, with walking paths.

The development would preserve wetlands and open space at the site, and also create green space and pathways connecting transit, trails and sidewalks "that are welcoming to existing neighbors, bikers, pedestrians and children."

Photo / Tim Greenway
Brian Eng, right, with Jim Brady, at the site of their Biddeford mixed use project. Eng is a principal in a cooperative housing development proposed for Lambert Street in Portland.

Offering housing hope

Maine Cooperative Development Partners and Szanton Co. also proposed a 108-unit project for  43 and 91 Douglass St., another city parcel, that would have included a 52-unit apartment building and 56 cooperative housing units. The Economic Development Committee, however, recommended a project for a 40-unit apartment building, 30 condominiums and 10 single-family homes proposed by a group that includes Avesta Housing, Hebert Development and Jack Soley. That project also has yet to be approved by the city council.

Eng said the Lambert Village model is something he definitely sees being successful anywhere in the state.

"There's a need for this type of affordable housing in Maine," he said, particularly in quickly growing areas like Biddeford. He said this type of development offers hope to those who've been priced out of the housing market.

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