Charlie Newton, who served as Penquis presidents for nearly three decades, speaks during a ribbon-cutting ceremony opening a new housing unit named after him. Newton said the affordable housing issues he had faced while he led Penquis had "exasperated" since he retired in 2014. Credit: David Marino Jr. / BDN

Local leaders inaugurated the opening of a new 40-unit housing complex on Grandview Avenue in Bangor on Monday, the latest effort by Penquis to build affordable housing in the area amid a statewide shortage.

People will begin moving into the 40 one-bedroom units at Charlie and Ellen Newton Place beginning in mid-October. The 40,000-square-foot complex will serve those 55 and older with earnings 60 percent of the local median household income or less.

Charlie and Ellen Newton cut the ribbon for a new housing complex named after them on Grandview Avenue in Bangor on Monday. They are flanked by MaineHousing director Dan Brennan, left, and Penquis CEO Kara Hay, right. Credit: David Marino Jr. / BDN

The newly built complex will provide stable housing for those most at risk locally, Penquis Housing Development Director Jason Bird said, including those facing foreclosure, an abusive household or mobility challenges. Rents will range from $681 to $818 a month, which includes most utilities, depending on income.

“In just a few short weeks, this will be a home for someone for, hopefully, decades to come,” Bird said.

Bangor has long faced a shortage of affordable rental units, a problem that local housing advocates say has only been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic amid rising property valuations and lost jobs. Similar shortages are occurring across Maine.

The building is named after Charlie Newton, who served as Penquis president for nearly three decades before retiring in 2014, as well as his wife, Ellen, a retired nurse and piano teacher. Charlie Newton said the affordable housing shortage he had faced during his work with Penquis had grown worse in recent years.

“Anything that addresses it is just wonderful,” Charlie Newton said. “It makes such a difference in the lives of people.”

Charlie and Ellen Newton Place building on Monday. The complex will feature 40 units, with people moving in beginning in mid-October. Credit: David Marino Jr. / BDN

Bangor City Council Chair Dan Tremble, who chaired Penquis’ board for three years, noted that the location had several advantages, including its proximity to a grocery store and other services on Broadway, and its sport along a Community Connector bus route.

Penquis developed the project in partnership with MaineHousing as well as the city of Bangor.

The newly built complex, which cost $8.6 million, will complement the 39 units available a stone’s throw away at Stephen B. Mooers Village, which opened last fall, Penquis CEO Kara Hay said. Penquis resident service coordinators will assist occupants of both complexes.

Bangor City Council Chair Dan Tremble speaks during the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Charlie and Ellen Newton Place housing complex on Grandview Avenue in Bangor. Credit: David Marino Jr. / BDN

The project was funded through MaineHousing using the Low Income Housing Tax Credit, a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development program that is used across the country to create new affordable housing.

While desire for affordable housing is dispersed across age groups in Penobscot, Penquis has had the most luck securing funding through the program locally when housing was built for older residents, Hay said.

The units are modern and fairly spacious, with abundant lighting and several electrical outlets, along with standard utilities including stoves, refrigerators and showers.  

Hay framed the new units as part of a wider effort by Penquis to help alleviate the affordable housing challenge across Maine. While she said the opening of the 40 new units was a joyful occasion, she noted that tens of thousands of Mainers continue to face difficulty finding affordable housing.

“It’s not okay,” Hay said. “We have a lot of work to do.”