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Avesta, Preble Street propose 30 to 50 Housing First apartments on former Oxford Street shelter site

A security guard stands outside Portland's Oxford Street Shelter on March 31, 2020.
Troy R. Bennett
A security guard stands outside Portland's Oxford Street Shelter on March 31, 2020.

Avesta Housing and Preble Street are planning to turn the site of Portland's former Oxford Street shelter into a Housing First project, offering both housing and support services for residents.

Avesta CEO Rebecca Hatfield said her organization is proposing to demolish the existing shelter and construct a new building on site.

"That would be comprised of approximately 30 to 50 units, and that would be site-based Housing First," Hatfield said. "That would be permanent housing, and also contain 24/7 supportive services for those who have suffered from chronic homelessness."

Avesta and Preble Street have already partnered on three similar developments that utilize a "housing first" model. Those buildings comprise about 85 units total, and they currently have a waiting list of more than 150 people.

Preble Street Executive Director Mark Swann said it's traditionally been difficult to find funding for the support services in such projects. But he said the state's new Housing First fund, created under a budget bill passed earlier this year, offers a new funding stream that makes them more feasible.

"There can still be challenges. We know that on every level," Swann said. "But now, one of the major, major hurdles, we're going to be able to overcome it much, much easier."

According to Anthony Ronzio, a spokesperson for the Mills administration, the Housing First fund will go into effect in July 2025.

"The process is twofold – DHHS will vet the services for potential Housing First projects, and once that agency has approved, the project will be referred to MaineHousing for capital investment. The details of this process are still to be determined by forthcoming rulemaking," Ronzio said in an email.

Avesta plans to begin construction in 2025, if the project receives appropriate funding and municipal approval.