Augusta proposal for affordable housing approved despite resistance from some neighbors



AUGUSTA – Augusta City Council unanimously approved a proposal to build an affordable 34-unit residential complex for renters 55 and over, despite opposition from some neighbors who feared the project could take away green spaces and generate too much traffic.

While the Augusta Housing Authority’s project has yet to secure funding and be submitted to the City Planning Committee for consideration, construction could begin in June 2023 and the complex could be ready for tenants to move into in June 2024.

Some city councils said Thursday that the construction of the project cannot come soon enough and they hope other builders will propose building apartments to address what they believe to be a serious shortage of apartments of all kinds in Augusta, especially affordable ones Housing for seniors.

“We’re just scratching the surface,” said Mayor David Rollins of the Malta Street project and a smaller Augusta Housing proposal to develop eight more senior housing units on city-owned property at 597 Riverside Drive, which councilors approved last Week. “We need a lot of projects, in many locations. I think it was a great compromise. “

After neighbors to the Hodgkins location complained that the project initially proposed to cover a large existing soccer and baseball field was taking up too much green space, the Augusta Housing Authority revamped the project and went smaller from the previously proposed group, freestanding buildings that would cover the sports fields into a single 34-unit residential building to be built near the existing Hodgkins School Apartments.

The redesign leaves the main sports fields largely untouched, but would be built on a much smaller ball field at the end of the site.

Some neighbors, including Cornelia and Ted Brown, who live nearby on Quimby Street and have filed a “Save Hodgkins Field” petition signed by around 50 residents, said the revamped project would still take up too much green space and unwanted traffic a concentration of senior housing in one place. They asked the city to postpone a vote on the project so that locations could be explored where housing could be developed without having a negative impact.

“I understand the motivation for doing this, but you are not thinking about the inherent value of this beautiful field now and in the future,” said Ted Brown. “You can build your apartment anywhere. All you need to do is look at it with common sense.

“If I were to build low-income homes for the elderly, I wouldn’t concentrate it in a ghetto like you do. I would look for places where it would be beneficial for the city to build something new. Taking Hodgkins is a net loss, it is that simple. “

Amanda Olson, executive director of Augusta’s Housing Authority, said studies show the Augusta area needs an additional 449 family housing units and 424 senior housing units. She also said rental housing is so scarce that rents have soared that they are no longer affordable for many working people and those receiving Section 8 vouchers.

Officials said the local housing shortage is so severe that people live in tents or cars, live outside, or in shelters for the homeless.

Santa Havener, The manager of Bridging the Gap, who runs a warming center and pantries for clothes and essentials in Augusta, said she sees the lack of affordable housing drive some seniors homeless when she works on the front lines in social services.

“Weekly, sometimes every day, I have contact with individuals, many of them our seniors who experience homelessness, sleep outside in tents, cars, on sidewalks, on benches,” wrote Havener in a letter to the city council. “The current housing crisis is becoming a public health and safety issue.”

City councils thanked the neighbors for raising their concerns, but said the need for affordable housing in Augusta is huge, the compromise preserves the green spaces on site, and the city has numerous other recreational areas and lots of green space – roughly 1,200 acres minus that 2.1 acres that would do this would be rented to the Housing Office.

“We have families who sleep in cars, sometimes on the street,” said Ward 2 Alderman Kevin Judkins. “When I balance the green spaces, which we seem to have a lot of, with the homeless, I will use common sense and compassion. Tonight, I’ll be voting for humanity rather than convenience, and I would vote to move that forward. “

Like the city on the Housing Authority project to convert city-owned Hodgkins Middle School into senior housing, it is proposed that the city sign a long-term lease – with the agency paying $ 1 a year – for the Malta Street and Riverside Drive properties for the development of apartments.

The housing authority is also seeking a deal with the city to buy the current Augusta Police Station on Union Street, to be replaced with a station on Willow Street, for about $ 650,000.

The agency, which is now based in the building, would renovate the facility, keep office space there and convert the rest of the building into rental apartments.

The city councils still have to vote on this proposal.

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