Residents expressed concern Thursday about proposed changes to a permit for an affordable housing development in Belfast, but the developers and city officials say the amendment is not what it seems.
The Belfast Planning Board is holding a public hearing on Wednesday, March 8, to discuss an amendment to Developers Collaborative’s permit for a housing development at 115 Congress Street. The permit changes would create a “condominium form of ownership.”
The public hearing announcement led some residents to express concerns on Facebook about the idea of the project shifting to condominium ownership, rather than affordable rental units, amid a shortage of affordable housing in Belfast. However, the designation doesn’t mean what it sounds like.
“It’s just basically a land condo so that they can break up different portions of the project for financing,” Director of Codes and Planning Bub Fournier said. “There are no residential condos for sale.”
The original permit, which was approved by the Belfast Planning Board in April 2021, authorized Developers Collaborative to build 48 rental units on Congress Street – 12 market rate rentals and 36 state subsidized low-income affordable housing units.
Instead, all the units are expected to be affordable housing. Also, the developer will own the four buildings housing the original 36 affordable housing units. The fifth building, with the remaining 12 units, will be owned by an affiliated company and managed by Developers Collaborative Founder Kevin Bunker, said Laura Reading, the director of affordable housing at Developers Collaborative. Reading said the purpose of the two different companies is to utilize different funding sources for the development of the units.
Developers Collaborative’s partnership will also usher in a different kind of pricing for those 12 units, which be priced at 80% of the area median income in Waldo County. In 2022, Maine Housing set that pricing at $1,289 for a two bedroom. The other 36 units will be available to people who make 60% of median income levels, which Maine Housing set at $1,075 in 2022.
Fournier said the city is in full support of the amendment and the overall project because it meets a need for more affordable housing at a time when city officials say Belfast is experiencing a housing crisis.
“It’s 48 more units than we would have had otherwise. So more units, especially affordable with a metric that’s recognized nationally for affordability, is a good thing. Hopefully, we can get more projects like this,” Fournier said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story contained some inaccuracies. There are five buildings planned. Four will be owned by Developers Collection. The fifth building will be owned by an affiliated company and managed by Developers Collaborative Founder Kevin Bunker.