Bath Housing Development Corporation, a nonprofit organization working to maintain affordable housing in the city, in May purchased the historic Columbia Block and Moses Building on Front Street in Bath. Credit: Beth Brogan

BATH, Maine — A nonprofit organization committed to ensuring “modest” rental housing prices in Bath has purchased two historic blocks on Front Street, with the goal of maintaining 10 existing apartments.

Bath Housing Development Corporation in May bought the historic Columbia Block and the Moses Building from Sagadahock Real Estate Co. and John G. Morse & Sons for $720,000, according to records filed in the Bath assessor’s office.

The properties, at 176-194 Front St., are home to the street-level businesses Lisa-Marie’s Made in Maine, Open Door Books, Wag’s & Whiskers, J’Adore Consignment, Mala Room and the Patten Free Library bookstore.

The housing nonprofit bought the properties with short-term goals, including preserving the 10 existing rental apartments on the third floor of the buildings as “modestly priced housing in the heart of Bath,” Debora Keller, the organization’s board secretary said.

Credit: Courtesy of Bath Housing Authority

Other goals are maintaining the ground-level retail spaces with existing tenants “as a vital part of Front Street in downtown Bath,” maximizing the parking lot to relieve parking pressure in downtown Bath, and undergoing a series of initial improvements to make the buildings safer and healthier.

On the second floor of the buildings are two adjacent spaces, each approximately 5,000 square feet, that were formerly a recreation center and the old Bath YMCA building.

Keller said the housing nonprofit’s board is considering a number of scenarios for that space, although she declined to be more specific.

“We’re excited,” she said. “We want to play it out over time and find the best fit for the community and the tenants.”

Bath Housing Development Corporation also purchased a 36-space parking lot at the corner of Front and Summer streets — adjacent to the Hampton Inn parking lot and diagonally across from the Columbia Block — for a total of $225,000.

Keller is also executive director of Bath Housing Authority, a separate organization that manages subsidized housing in the city. BHDC contracts with the BHA to manage its apartments.

Sagadahock Real Estate Association was formed by Oliver Moses, who purchased a number of properties in the 1860s, Bath Assessor Brenda Cummings said Thursday. The company has held the properties, including those sold in May, consistently since then, she said.

“We’ve been very blessed to have that kind of continuity and investment in Bath,” Cummings said. “Aaron Moses gave us our library, and Oliver Moses was a big philanthropist as well as an investor in Bath. That legacy, when the Morses acquired the property … [has been part of] making Bath thrive.”

Credit: Courtesy of Legard Private Collection at the Patten Free Library

“We see ourselves as stewards of the properties,” Debora Keller said, adding that Sagadahock Realty has historically rented the apartments at below market value, and the new owner plans to continue that practice.

While Bath Housing Association manages about 185 units in the city — approximately 140 of which are subsidized — rent elsewhere in Bath is rarely near what HUD says is fair market value — $832 for a one-bedroom apartment and $980 for a two-bedroom.

And subsidized housing often has a “phenomenally long” waiting list of up to five to seven years, Keller said.

In fact, during the previous three years, rents have risen a total of approximately 25 percent in Bath, according to Keller. In December, a one-bedroom apartment, including heat, averaged $854, and a two-bedroom $1,200.

“There’s a drastic mismatch between available and needed housing in the state as a whole, both in terms of quality, access and price,” she said. “As downtown Bath is changing and evolving … we would love to see more housing in the downtown area so we can continue to house more people and families.”