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  • Gillian Graham

New affordable housing complex for older Mainers opens in Old Orchard Beach

The developer behind the project, The Szanton Company, scrapped a similar project in Cape Elizabeth after significant pushback prompted a town referendum.

Originally published in the Press Herald on March 15th, 2023, by GILLIAN GRAHAM.

Residents began moving in Wednesday to a new 55-unit apartment building in Old Orchard Beach that officials say helps fill a need for more affordable, year-round housing in the area.

Milliken Heights was approved by the town without the kind of opposition that derailed a similar project by the same developer in Cape Elizabeth. It targets older Mainers who are looking for high-efficiency apartments and will allow those still in the workforce to live closer to their jobs.

The Szanton Company, a Portland-based housing developer, built the new complex with partial funding from MaineHousing loans. The mixed-income building includes 42 units reserved for households earning below 60% of the area median income.

In a resort town where many houses are rented at high weekly rates in the summer and more affordable prices in winter, it was clear there was a need for more year-round affordable options, said Nathan Szanton, the company’s president.

“We know from our talks with members of the community that affordable housing that’s available year-round is scarce in Old Orchard Beach,” he said.

When Szanton’s company walked away from the project in Cape Elizabeth he said that it would refocus its efforts on projects in communities that want affordable housing.

Units for income-qualifying households at Milliken Heights are renting for $1,113, while the 13 market-rate apartments are $1,475 per month. There were only 14 units still available for lease as of Wednesday afternoon. The head of household must be 55 or older.

Lynn Major started moving into her one-bedroom apartment at Milliken Heights on Wednesday. She could not be more excited about her new living arrangements after living in a hotel since January and being forced to put her belongings in storage. She said she moved to Maine from Michigan to be closer to her daughter, who lives in Portland.

“When I came to Maine finding anything affordable was next to impossible, but then this apartment popped up on,” said Major, who is renting a market-rate apartment. She applied and got in. “I guess I was one of the lucky ones.”

In addition to living just a couple of blocks from the beach, her new home is close to the Amtrak Downeaster train station, which operates daily to Portland, Freeport and Brunswick. The train could come in handy if Major decides to go back to work for a business such as L.L. Bean.

But for now, Major said she is just happy to have a safe and comfortable place to live. Milliken Heights offers residents one parking spot, a common room, a fitness center and a laundry room.

“As I got older it made sense to move closer to my daughter,” Major explained. “Living here will give me a chance to downsize and simplify my life. I’ve got some weeding out to do.”

“The Milliken Heights apartment complex is a desirable addition to Old Orchard Beach to meet the affordable housing needs of its senior population,” Town Manager Diana Asanza said.

The project was funded in part with federal low-income housing tax credits and three loans totaling $8.8 million from MaineHousing. As construction began in late 2021, Daniel Brennan, the agency’s director, said demand for new affordable housing units in Maine was at an all-time high.

“These 55 units in Old Orchard Beach for older Mainers are an important addition to the housing landscape in southern Maine. Every time we get somebody into a new and affordable housing unit, that’s a win,” Brennan said Wednesday. “We know we have a long way to go overall, but the people moving into Milliken Heights will now have a safe, warm and affordable home and that’s what this work is all about.”

Lynn Major moves her belongings into her new apartment at the Milliken Heights development on Wednesday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Affordable housing for people 55 and over is important “workforce” housing that allows people to live near their jobs. Many Mainers are still working part- and full-time jobs in the local economy, said Scott Thistle, communications director for MaineHousing.

Asanza said the building’s location on a 5-acre lot off Portland Avenue in the town center allows tenants to easily access the town hall, post office, a grocery store, a pharmacy and the beach.

The building is the company’s first passive house project – passive homes have extremely high-efficiency standards that often produce more energy than they consume. The units include increased insulation, triple-pane windows and mini-split heat pumps for heating and cooling, said Kristin Martin, the development officer for the project. The building is among the most energy-efficient projects developed in Maine, a trend that will continue in future affordable housing projects, Thistle said.

The Szanton Company broke ground on the project in November 2021, shortly after it announced it was pulling the plug on a similar affordable housing project in Cape Elizabeth that drew significant pushback from opponents who criticized its location, size and financing. It would have been the first affordable housing project in Cape Elizabeth in 50 years.

“It began to feel like we were spending so much time, effort and money trying to force ourselves on a community that appears to not want us or is a long way from making up its mind on affordable housing,” Szanton said in an interview with the Press Herald in 2021.

Szanton said at the time that the company would refocus its efforts on projects in communities that want affordable housing, including Old Orchard Beach, Bath, Portland and Lewiston.

Lynn Major in her new apartment at the Milliken Heights development on Wednesday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Milliken Heights is the 12th mixed-income property The Szanton Company has developed since 2004. The company’s other properties in northern York County include the Mill at Saco Falls and the Loft at Saco Falls in downtown Biddeford.

The Szanton Company currently is working on housing projects in Lewiston, Portland and Bath. The Portland project, Dougherty Commons, will feature larger apartments aimed at families. A fourth project has been approved by the town of Cumberland but is awaiting financing through MaineHousing.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey contributed to this story



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