NORWAY — Long known as a champion of locally driven economic and environmental programming The Center for an Ecology-Based Economy and its shared housing partner, Norway Equitable Housing Cooperative, is developing a 12-unit affordable housing complex at 33-35 Whitman Street.

The Center for Ecology-Based Economy has established the Norway Equitable Housing Cooperative, which is developing tenant-owned housing. An anonymous $70,000 donation allowed the co-op to acquire its Whitman Street property. Pictured from left are Scott Vlaun of CEBE, Thea Hart of NEHC and Mike Newsom of CEBE after closing on the purchase and getting the keys in May. Supplied photo

NEHC, launched in 2021, is Norway’s latest cooperative venture, joining Fare Share Food Coop and another CEBE-incubated business, Spoke Folks.

Thea Hart, lead coordinator for NEHC, has been with the co-op since its early days, facilitating its work from its inception to the recent purchase of the late Ashley Everett’s home on Whitman Street.

Hart, an artist and graphic designer who grew up in Fryeburg, moved to Norway four years ago and found housing to be almost an unattainable necessity.

“I was in a house with five or six people and struggling to find adequate housing outside of that,” Hart recently told the Advertiser Democrat. “A lot of people my age struggle with housing.

“I connected with CEBE and Fare Share. In sharing my situation, Scott Vlaun of CEBE asked me, ‘what about an eco-village?’ That’s the word he used at the time. It’s something that CEBE had been thinking about for as long as they’ve been around.”


With Vlaun’s and CEBE’s Board President Mike Newsom’s encouragement, Hart and other would-be renters began meeting at CEBE’s office a couple of times a month. They debated needs, obstacles and solutions.

“Part of CEBE’s mission is to develop cooperatively owned enterprises,” Newsom said. “With the climate emergency, it touches everything. One of the barriers to housing making it sustainable and affordable. For people with income inequality or living in poverty, housing is inefficient. It’s done using cheaper materials, with cheaper building practices.

“We want everyone in good housing, not just the rich. When we make housing affordable and efficient, we also address our climate emergency.”

Most of the group’s members worked in the immediate Norway area. The concept of Vlaun’s vision for an eco-village shifted from a self-sustaining community of residents sharing resources to a neighborhood-based complex that could eliminate vehicle commuting in favor of walking or biking. The cooperative housing approach remained its guiding principle.

“We decided ‘cooperative’ was really important to us because it allows affordability,” Hart said. “That is the big thing: cooperatively owned and managed. It supports our ecologically sound and affordable mission.”

Eco-villages and housing co-ops can be found in rural and metro communities across the country but are still relatively new to Maine. Raise Up, a Lewiston-based organization that currently operates three properties, has served as a model and provided support for the Norway group.


Maine Passive House, a building contractor in Bethel, passivehausMaine, a non-profit organization from Freeport that provides green-building education and outreach resources, and Maine State Housing Authority have all provided technical assistance as well.

The group began scouting locations in town that matched its mission. Early in that process, one property came into focus – the former home of Ashley Everett on Whitman Street. Everett, who passed away in 2018, had lived in the home since 1927.

With the Whitman Street lots determined to be NECH’s most feasible option, Hart said they focused first on community engagement.

“The property was not on the market, but it had been listed in the past,” Hart said. “We knocked on doors in the neighborhood, giving people a letter explaining our goals. People might not know what a housing cooperative is, but they do understand that there is a housing crisis.”

When affordable housing discussions go public it often arouses concerns about resident behaviors, crime and other issues. Recognizing the stigma associated with not-for-profit housing, NEHC went about educating their potential neighbors and presented their ideas to town officials.

“There can be scary feelings around affordable housing,” Hart shared. “With cooperative housing, residents are the owners and they are responsible for their homes. Once we explain the structure, it clicks. People have been supportive of us.”


Even though they had not yet determined funding for the project, NEHC reached out to Everett’s family to see if they were interested in selling the property and found that they were. The parties signed a memo of understanding. The price would be $70,000, as is, for just over a half-acre with NEHC assuming responsibility for demolition and any necessary remediation.

“We put out as many feelers as possible” as a precursor to fundraising, Hart said. “Through CEBE helping us network, one party asked us, ‘how much do you need?’ We said $70,000 and they said, ‘okay, we can help you.’”

With one anonymous donation NEHC was able to take a huge step and purchased the property, closing on its future home in May of this year.

“It’s a huge milestone for us,” Hart said. “I’ll tell you how it felt. I cried. I was so excited to go back to my community, which had cried with me on their doorsteps about the housing crisis, and tell them that we might be able to make this happen. It empowers renters and families struggling in our area. It is huge.

“And to buy the site and have the keys in my hand? It was elation for like an hour. [Then] we unlocked the doors to this building that is falling down. This is not my background, it’s not any of our backgrounds. We have so much work ahead.”

What that $70,000 bought is basically a brownfields site. (A brownfield is a property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.)


The structures were built in the 19th century. One was the home of George Bennett and the other was his carriage repair and painting business.

Everett’s 90 years in the home were spent raising flocks of chickens, packs of hunting dogs and collecting. The buildings are in poor shape and neither is safe to enter. Both are sided with asbestos and the ground may contain contaminants.

As a non-profit cooperative, NEHC qualifies for remediation assistance through Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments’ Brownfield Redevelopment Program. The buildings will need to be demolished and removed.

NEHC’s current work phases include design and engineering concepts as well as fundraising.

“It will be affordable housing and making it net-zero is important to us,” Hart said. “Which can mean a few different things. To us, net-zero means there’s low to no electricity bills. We’ll use solar power to offset and reduce costs, possibly on-site or through community solar farms. It needs to have high insulation values and air handlers.”

NEHC hopes to utilize MaineHousing’s Rural Affordable Housing Rental Program to help fund the project. It is the same pilot program that will help convert the long-vacant Odd Fellows building on Main Street into a combination of affordable housing and commercial space.


NEHC was one of the groups to testify early this year before Maine’s Joint Select Committee on Housing to retain the rural affordable housing program and fund it with $10 million annually for the next two years. It was introduced as LD 724 during the Maine Legislature’s 131st session and signed into law in June.

“We’ve demonstrated to funders like Maine Housing that NEHC is like a product that fills a need,” Newsom said. “We can show that it’s possible for tenants, tenant unions and other groups to organize and get cooperative housing funded.”

Once site remediation is done and designs become blue prints, the equally important phase for construction permit applications will be next. NEHC estimates the Whitman Street co-op construction costs to exceed $2 million.

“We are super lucky to have gotten this far,” Hart said. “We still need help. The structure we’ve chosen [to provide affordable housing] relies on community. It is centered on community and every step of the way we’ve had to rely on each other. It’s the heart of what we are doing.”

NEHC will operate as a limited equity housing cooperative with governing bylaws. Each household will hold a voting share in the organization. To follow the project’s progress, make a donation or learn more about cooperative ownership, visit

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