Another Munjoy Hill dump is about to bite the dust, but unlike others profiled in these pages in recent months, 134 Washington Ave. won’t be the exclusive abode of a wealthy house-hunter.
The metal siding on this modest home near the intersections of Fox and Walnut streets is beginning to peel off like a hangnail. Several windows are boarded-up and one has a baseball-size hole in it. The weather-beaten front door looks like you could kick it in with bare feet. The concrete side porch is crumbling into gravel; its railing is rust. A netless basketball hoop hangs forlornly above the garage door, but the remarkably untarnished satellite dish perched on the roof looks like it might still work. Nobody’s bothered to cut the crabgrass that dominates the postage-stamp of a front yard, but why worry about that when the bulldozers are ready to roll?
Avesta Housing, a Maine nonprofit that develops affordable housing, acquired this property last year. Before that, it was the home of Debra and Michael DiBiase. County records indicate the house had belonged to Michael’s family since the early 1950s, but the couple seem to have had a hard time keeping up with payments after taking out a $155,600 mortgage on the house in 2007. In April of 2008, Sovereign Bank made moves to foreclose on the property after its owners fell into default. A loan-modification agreement inked in March of 2009 kept the white-collar wolves from the door, but proved to be a brief reprieve.
According to an obituary in the Portland Press Herald, Michael DiBiase, who worked many years for beer-and-wine wholesaler National Distributors, passed away that June “following a long illness.” The bankers came back twice before Avesta stepped in and bought the place last spring for $280,000.
Avesta intends to knock the house down and replace it with a four-story structure containing 18 efficiency apartments above ground-floor office space. According to Avesta development officer Greg Payne, 10 of the units will rent for $535 per month, and the other eight will be $668. Avesta plans to market the units to veterans who are struggling to secure shelter.
“Our partner organizations, especially Preble Street, have told us that they are serving a large number of veterans, and we would like to address their housing needs as best we can,” said Payne, who added that prospective tenants need not have served in the military to apply for the apartments.
Once built, the property is expected to be valued at nearly $850,000. Avesta plans to tap into several state and federal funding sources to finance the project, which is expected to cost $3 million to complete, and has asked the Portland City Council for a tax break that would allow the nonprofit to keep half the property taxes it will owe over the next two decades — a deal worth over $200,000. A council committee gave the tax agreement preliminary approval last month, and final approval by the full council seems likely this month.
Payne acknowledged that some neighbors have expressed concerns about parking and traffic, but said they have also offered helpful suggestions about the building’s design and have generally been supportive of the project. One of those neighbors, Laura Balladur, said the height of the proposed building seems excessive for the area. “That said, I’m all for mixed-used and mixed-income neighborhoods,” she added.
Payne said that if the city planning and financing processes stay on track, work on the project could begin this October.
— Patrick Banks