Community Housing of Maine (CHOM), a non-profit housing developer, bought the building located at 53 High Street from Fred Small in late November 2010. At that time the building was a shell, finished on the outside, empty on the inside. According to Erin Cooperrider, Development Director of CHOM, the sale closed the day before Thanksgiving, and construction began the following Monday.

Cooperrider says the project is targeted toward working families who earn ordinary incomes of between 50 percent and 80 percent of Area Median Income. The rent levels are set each year by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, so the actual rents will be those in effect at the time leasing begins. The project does not have any rental subsidy, so renters will need to have sufficient income to pay the rent. An informal waiting list for such housing is being kept at the Town Office. Once a completion date for the project is reasonably certain, outreach and marketing efforts will begin on island to develop a formal waiting list of qualified applicants.

According to Cooperrider there is a growing sector of the population that are largely single parent families that need the opportunity to rent below the market in order to save up money. The problem is exacerbated on Vinalhaven because there aren’t many rentals to begin with. “Every community needs a continuum of housing,” she said, referring to rentals, houses to buy and eldercare facilities.

The Hillside Apartments will consist of six townhouse style apartments, with bedrooms and bathroom upstairs, and living area and kitchen downstairs. Four of the units will contain two bedrooms and one bathroom in approximately 850 square feet, and two of the units will contain three bedrooms and one bathroom in approximately 1,200 square feet.

“It has been a pure pleasure working with the community of Vinalhaven,” said Cooperrider. The town of Vinalhaven already understood that there was a need for affordable housing, she explained. According to Cooperrider, usually there is a long period of community education, but Vinalhaven had already gone through this, there was no NIMBY attitude. “That makes a big difference when you’re a small non-profit” like Community Housing of Maine that staffs only eight people, she said.

The Hillside Apartments are notable because it is the first project statewide to receive funding from the Green Affordable Housing Bond (LD 1485) that was signed into law in June 2009. Greg Payne, coordinator of the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition, worked hard to help ensure that LD 1485 passed. According to Payne, the Bond calls for flexibility in income targeting and project size so as to meet the needs of rural communities like those found on Maine’s islands.

In addition, one purpose of the Bond is to put workers in the construction sector back to work. This project will use two electricians, two plumbers, three carpenters, a superintendent and several other subcontractors. An effort has been made to hire locally on the Hillside project when possible. Islander Brandon Small and his father, Fred, have subcontracted to frame up the inside of the building.

“Overall, we want to make the public understand the good that the bond is doing around the state now that it has passed,” said Payne.

Funding for the project is coming from local, state, and federal sources, including the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston, the Maine State Housing Authority Island Demonstration Program, the Genesis Fund Islands Challenge Grant, the Island Institute Affordable Coast Fund, and the Town of Vinalhaven.

The lack of affordable rental housing for Vinalhaven residents was first recognized as a serious community problem in the late 1980s. In response to the problem, the Town created the Vinalhaven Affordable Housing Committee in 1988, comprised of the Town Manager, a representative of the Board of Selectmen, the Planning Board, members of the low-income community, real estate professionals, and people in the building trades. In 2004, Brandon Small began renovating 53 High Street with the intention of making it affordable housing, only to find that funding is not readily available to individual developers for this purpose. Small contacted the Genesis Community Loan Fund, which put him in touch with Community Housing of Maine.

Kris Osgood is a freelance writer living on Vinalhaven.