The Schoolhouse on Harlow Street in Bangor. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

A new affordable housing project will renovate an apartment complex in the center of downtown Bangor, adding six new units, lowering the rent on others and adding amenities that advocates say are essential to creating quality affordable housing that Bangor badly needs.

Community Housing of Maine is set to purchase Bangor’s Schoolhouse at 183 Harlow St., a century-old building that once housed Bangor High School but has served as an apartment complex since the early 1980s. Community Housing will perform an “occupied rehab” of the building, which is located next to the Bangor Public Library. That means that tenants will live there as the Portland organization converts commercial spaces into residential units, upgrades heating and air conditioning, and adds a new roof, kitchens, floors and lighting, said Community Housing of Maine development officer Bree LaCasse.

Single tenants and families alike will be able to live in the renovated apartment complex, LaCasse said, which will feature 10 studio apartments, 34-one bedroom units, 18 two-bedroom units and four three-bedroom units.

Creating new affordable units has long been a challenge in Bangor, whose residents have a median household income more than 15 percent lower than the rest of Maine’s. A study by a city housing task force in 2019 found Bangor faced a lack of affordable, quality housing units, finding deteriorating housing conditions, rising rents and other problems that were “unacceptable for a community, like Bangor, that values quality of life and livable housing in desirable neighborhoods.”

The Bangor City Council has made new affordable housing more of a priority since that study, including with the Schoolhouse project. The council unanimously agreed to return 36 percent of new property taxes Community Housing is expected to pay after renovations raise the site’s property value. The agreement is in place for 15 years.

The Schoolhouse on Harlow Street in Bangor. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

The city also agreed to forgive $160,000 owed to the city by the property’s previous owners from a 1985 federal loan that Community Housing of Maine would have been required to pay after acquiring the building.

Community Housing of Maine became attached to the project after the building’s current owner, Bangor Development Associates, approached the organization a few years ago, LaCasse said. It won’t be Community Housing’s first project in Penobscot County; it currently owns over 20 properties in the Bangor area.

Community Housing of Maine anticipates that it will acquire the building later this summer, with the 18-month construction period beginning immediately. New tenants will move in either when construction is completed or shortly before, LaCasse said.

The Bangor Planning Board approved Community Housing’s site development plan on Dec. 15, as well as an amended version of that plan on Tuesday. The new changes were relatively minor, reducing the number of on-site parking spaces from 32 to 27. There will also be 22 off-site parking spaces.

The Schoolhouse on Harlow Street in Bangor. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

One focus Community Housing of Maine has had throughout the project is to create a number of amenities for residents, including two community rooms, a new laundry room and a playroom for kids. LaCasse and other affordable housing advocates see these additions as vital for tenants as they look for a place to call home.

“A big part of the rehab is creating spaces where tenants can gather and creating a community within the building,” LaCasse said.

The property and the land it sits on were worth nearly $2 million in 2020, according to Bangor assessing data. It is currently owned by the Bangor Development Associates and was converted to housing in the early 1980s.

“There’s an extraordinary unmet demand for affordable, quality housing in Maine,” LaCasse said. “Investing in housing stability for Mainers creates a foundation of stability.”