An aerial view of the area where a 53-unit workforce housing development is being proposed in Auburn behind the Auburn Public Library, right. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal file photo)

AUBURN — Construction will begin this year on a 53-unit housing development on Hampshire Street after the project recently secured funding from the Maine State Housing Authority.

According to a news release from the developer Tuesday, the funding, in the form of low-income housing tax credits, “will allow the developer to complete the detailed design, with an expected construction start in late 2018, followed by approximately one year of construction.”

The four-story development by Portland-based The Szanton Co. will include a mix of 14 market-rate and 39 lower-income housing units.

While the project has moved forward quickly through support from Auburn officials, the immediate timeline for construction was dependent on Szanton’s application for the credits. 

The list of requirements to get the project rolling was lengthy, but on par with similar affordable housing projects.

The city sold Szanton the land at 48 Hampshire St. for $45,000, but also gave the project $110,000 in federal HOME program funding and created a 30-year tax increment financing district.

The lot is bordered on three sides by Hampshire and Troy streets and Library Avenue. A large section of Troy Street, which is next to the railroad tracks, will also be discontinued.

In February, just before applying for the credits, Szanton Project Manager Andy Jackson said his financing application would go up against 13 other projects seeking funding in Maine, out of a pool of money that would only fund four or five projects. He said a successful scorecard for a project shows financial feasibility, including whether a developer has partnered with the city on a TIF agreement. 

Now, the $810,000 in tax credits from MaineHousing affirms that the project will head to construction this year. 

Throughout the process, city officials have touted the importance of new and affordable housing in the downtown. Projects like Szanton’s provide a necessary mix of housing downtown, and the central location in a neighborhood undergoing revitalization made sense, officials have said. 

In the news release Tuesday, Mayor Jason Levesque congratulated Szanton.

“We are looking forward to watching yet another major construction project in our downtown take shape — one that will provide quality workforce housing, inject capital into our local economy, and enhance the image of Auburn as we become the best small city in New England,” he said. 

Another housing development in Auburn, at 477 Minot Ave., was also recently awarded $720,000 in low-income housing tax credits toward its 36-unit project. 

On Wednesday, Levesque said the two projects in the downtown vicinity will be a welcome sight.

“There will be cranes in the air this year in Auburn,” he said. 

“We are thrilled to have reached this point,” said Nathan Szanton, president of the company. “This is when projects go from being speculative to a real ‘go,’ and now we can go into detailed design and put the project out to bid.”

According to Szanton, the 53 apartments will be a range of one-, two- and three-bedrooms. The apartments will include both market-rate units and affordable units set aside for households earning at or below 60 percent of the area median income.

In the release, Jackson said that typical lower-income tenants are retail clerks, waitresses, health care workers, child care workers and young people recently out of college or vocational school. 

At the same time, construction is already underway on Szanton’s project on Lisbon Street in Lewiston. Dubbed the Hartley Block, the project will produce 63 mixed-income housing units and 4,000 square feet of commercial space.

As the Hampshire Street project moves ahead, city officials are still working to reconfigure the public parking surrounding the site. 

The loss of overflow parking off Troy Street for the Auburn Public Library has led to some criticism from library supporters, and the city is working on a downtown parking and walkability assessment to find additional parking. 

A City Council workshop item to discuss library area parking and sidewalks was abruptly removed from the agenda this past Monday. 

Doug Greene, the city’s urban development coordinator, said he is working to schedule a neighborhood meeting to discuss parking and pedestrian safety in the downtown, including the library area. 

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A concept drawing shows the 53-unit housing development slated to be built this year along Troy and Hampshire streets in Auburn. The project was recently awarded low-income housing tax credits from MaineHousing, allowing it to move forward. (Sun Journal file image)


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