WATERVILLE — City officials plan to evaluate Waterville’s housing stock by forming a committee comprising two city councilors and up to six other residents who are involved in housing matters.

“We know that we have a housing crisis,” Mayor Jay Coelho said Thursday. “We don’t have enough.”

If the city wants more people to move to the area, officials must determine what the housing situation looks like, what mix of housing the city needs — single-family homes, rental units and so forth —  and then see what can be done to effect change, according to Coelho.

“There’s a ton of housing options,” he said. “What do we want Waterville to look like in the future? I think that’s part of what this group will explore.”

The City Council voted 7-0 on April 6 to establish the Waterville Housing Committee and appointed councilors Flavia Oliveira, D-Ward 2, and Rebecca Green, D-Ward 4, to the committee. The city is accepting applications for committee members on its website — www.waterville-me.gov. The panel is expected to include six to eight members, according to City Clerk Patti Dubois. Coelho will make recommendations and the council will appoint.

The city is seeking an actively engaged person in each of the following categories:

• A resident involved in the residential home building industry in connection with affordable housing.

• A resident in the banking or mortgage banking industry in connection with affordable housing.

• An advocate for low-income people in connection with affordable housing.

• A for-profit provider of affordable housing.

• A not-for-profit provider of affordable housing.

• A real estate professional.

The committee is to begin convening soon after members are appointed, and report back to the council in April 2023. The panel will be asked to review existing housing policies and guidelines, including those outlined in the city’s comprehensive plan, and look at a 2002 housing study, other housing data and projects under development, to identify issues of concern around housing availability.

It will also recommend specific actions or initiatives to encourage and facilitate promotion of  housing opportunities for all socioeconomic groups; support improvements in existing housing stock, both single and multifamily; provide incentives for workforce housing, specialized housing, renovated homes and new market rate homes; and encourage home ownership in the city by facilitating recreation areas and neighborhood businesses.

“I’m trying to get perspectives from landlords, real estate agents — people who are invested in seeing what Waterville is going to become in the future,” Coelho said. “I will do interviews and bring people I think can work well together. It’s going to be a diverse group, but they’re all going to bring some strength to the issue. It’s time for people to sit and discuss, have a plan and decide how we implement it going forward.”

Green introduced the idea of forming a housing committee. She told councilors April 6 the hope is to pinpoint ideas for how to improve the housing stock in Waterville and create cohesive neighborhoods. Federal stimulus money is coming to Maine for housing purposes, and Waterville could take advantage of that fairly quickly, she said. The committee would make recommendations to benefit all in the community, according to Green.

“It’s workforce housing, it’s new family homes, looking at the whole range,” she said.

South End resident Paula Raymond said a group of Colby students led by former City Councilor Winifred Tate spent two summers about five years ago gathering data about housing in Waterville. That data is available and will be forwarded to the new committee. Raymond said a presentation was made to the City Council back then to recommend a housing committee be formed, but it failed 4-3.

“I’m really glad that it is being brought up again,” Raymond said, “and I’m hoping to be on that committee.”

Former South End Neighborhood Association facilitator Kim Hallee agreed, saying, “I’m very pleased to see that this committee could come to fruition.”

CURRENT HOUSING, NEW PROJECTS

City Assessor Paul Castonguay has provided a list of Waterville’s housing stock, acknowledging that while he could not predict what the city needs for housing, one thing is certain: Obtaining housing can be costly.

“The real problem is the fact that no matter what we have, it’s so expensive for first-time buyers today,” Castonguay said. “It makes it unaffordable to do it.”

Waterville now has 2,825 single-family homes, 199 condominiums, 261 mobile homes, 597 two-family homes, 165 three-family homes, 179 buildings with four or more units, 303 vacant residential parcels, 533 commercial parcels, 75 industrial parcels and 307 exempt parcels.

There is a planned redevelopment of the former Lockwood Mill, near the Ticonic Bridge, by North River Co. that would offer about 65 residential units, including at least 40 affordable units and more than 20 available at market rate. North River owns the Hathaway Creative Center and the adjacent building formerly owned by Central Maine Power Co. Amy Calder/Morning Sentinel

There are some housing projects on the horizon, including the planned redevelopment of the former Lockwood Mill, near the Ticonic Bridge, by North River Co. That project is expected to offer about 65 residential units, including at least 40 affordable units and more than 20 available at market rate. North River owns the Hathaway Creative Center and the adjacent building formerly owned by Central Maine Power Co.

The former Seton Hospital on Chase Avenue is another site targeted for redevelopment. Waterville Development Co. III LLC received Planning Board approval last month for 68 apartments. They would include 55 one-bedroom and 13 two-bedroom units that would be workforce housing and rented according to tenant income, according to developer Kevin Mattson.

“If we are able to make our application to Maine State Housing within 60 days, we think by the end of the year we should be able to get through this process,” Mattson said.

Changes in tax credit rules caused the delay in moving the project forward in 2018, according to Mattson, who said another change in January this year “completely changed the economics of this project again.”

Because the previous plans had expired, he needed to return to the Planning Board for final approval. Construction is expected to take 14 to 16 months, he said.

The former Seton Hospital on Chase Avenue is planned to be redeveloped into 68 apartments. They would include 55 one-bedroom and 13 two-bedroom units that would be workforce housing and rented according to tenant income. Amy Calder/Morning Sentinel

In 2013, Mattson bought the 150,000-square-foot Seton building, which in 1997 had become part of MaineGeneral Medical Center. The Planning Board unanimously approved the project in 2016 and again in 2018, when the number of apartments proposed was increased from 55 to 68.

WHAT THE CITY CAN DO

Although it is not clear what power municipal government will have to help make home buying and rentals more affordable, the city has helped promote housing projects by creating tax increment financing arrangements.

To a certain degree, the city can also make zoning changes, and Waterville has a property maintenance ordinance to help police substandard housing conditions, according to former City Manager Michael Roy, who was manager when such housing developments were created. An example is Gilman Place, the former Gilman Street School, which was turned into workforce housing.

“That would be a concrete example of what a community can do,” Roy said Thursday.

Meanwhile, the effort to create the Waterville Housing Committee was a spin-off from the city’s efforts with the Working Communities Challenge Grant initiative, sponsored by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

Waterville a few months ago applied for the grant, but was not chosen. The grant would have led to the city’s receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars to help improve the area along the Kennebec River, including the South End, downtown and North End, with a focus on collaborative housing initiatives, “place-based” economics and improved connectivity between urban and residential neighborhoods.

City Manager Steve Daly said recently the new committee is expected to look at housing in Waterville and identify shortcomings and possible solutions. Daly confirmed the housing market is “extremely tight.”

“There are very few houses on the market,” he said, “and those that do go on the market are sold quite quickly. There’s been talk about the need for workforce housing, for low- and moderate-income housing and for development of housing in the upper-economic levels, as well.

“The committee would try to evaluate, ‘Do we have the right kinds of housing stock in the right proportions, on the right economic levels?’ It’s sort of a self-assessment.”

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