LEWISTON — Housing developments can avoid most trouble by screening would-be tenants, Nathan Szanton said.
Szanton, a managing partner of Maine Workforce Housing, held a community meeting June 16 at DaVinci’s to answer neighbors' questions about The Lofts at Bates Mill, 52 apartments that would mix low-income and market-rate units in Bates Mill No. 2.
The Lofts would be that company’s sixth housing project.
“We screen the heck out of all our tenants, market rate and affordable tenants,” Szanton told the small group. “It’s bad business, and bad for your reputation, to have bad tenants.”
Renters need references from three landlords and must agree to credit and criminal background checks.
“If there’s any criminal history, we reject them, flat out,” he said.
Once in, there’s no smoking, no animals except for declawed cats and quiet time after 10 p.m., all of which are enforced.
In all four properties currently rented out, only one person’s been asked to leave for smoking, he said, and only one evicted for illegal activity, dealing drugs from their apartment.
As he’s done in the past, The Lofts would look the same inside for both market and low-income renters, Szanton said.
“Nobody knows who’s affordable and who’s market rate in our projects,” he said.
Plans call for buying 40 percent of mill No. 2 on floors two through five. Bricks would be repointed, all the windows replaced and a heavy sound-proofing wall added so whomever occupies the rest of the mill won’t bother the renters, Szanton said.
Tenants would have on-site laundry, access to a community room with computers, fitness and media rooms and free wi-fi. There’s also a food court planned for levels one and two.
Each unit would come with one parking spot in a nearby city garage.
Szanton said 35 of the units would be one-bedroom (18 of them at market rate, renting at $640 per month; 11 at $483 for those earning half of the area median income; and six more, tentatively, as project-based Section 8, renting at $576). Ten units would be two-bedrooms and seven three-bedrooms.
He’s asked the Lewiston Housing Authority to give the project 13 Section 8 vouchers.
Asked by someone in the audience whether he could have more market rate units (currently 18) and fewer low-income (34), Szanton said it wasn’t possible.
“Without the subsidies that come along with low-income housing, we wouldn’t have the capital, there wouldn’t be any housing there,” he said.
Lincoln Jeffers, assistant to the Lewiston city administrator, said Bates Mill had so far been unique in that its turnaround involved all commercial opportunities and no housing. He said he felt the project would support downtown businesses.
Steve Myers, development coordinator at Platz Associates, owner of mill No. 2, said Tom Platz had always thought housing would be good for the mix.
“The deal is, we’re really not housing people,” he said.
Platz has been approached over the years, but nothing ever worked out until he met Szanton and his partner.
“We were a little skeptical when they started talking about workforce housing, mixed (income) housing,” Myers said. “Tom, especially, did not want to do anything to jeopardize his investment in the Bates Mill.”
Platz toured Maine Workforce Housing’s Portland projects and came away impressed with the way they looked and were run, Myers said.
The Lofts are due before the city planning board at the end of June and the Lewiston Historic Preservation Board July 15. Szanton said he’ll apply for the Maine State Housing Authority's low-income housing tax credits in October and expects to hear back in December.
He’ll also approach the city about a 15-year tax agreement to return some future property taxes.
Szanton said he’d like to begin construction on the $9.6 million project in June 2011 and open for occupancy in March 2012.