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Real estate development conference in Portland will focus on housing

The non-profit Community Housing of Maine opened Phoenix Flats, a 45-unit apartment building for older Mainers, people with disabilities and "long-term stayers" at Portland homeless shelters, back in June.
Nicole Ogrysko
/
Maine Public
The non-profit Community Housing of Maine opened Phoenix Flats, a 45-unit apartment building for older Mainers, people with disabilities and "long-term stayers" at Portland homeless shelters, back in June.

A real estate development conference Wednesday in Portland will focus on housing. Maine continues to suffer from a shortage of supply. That has pushed both home prices and rents higher. Expensive land, high construction costs and high interest rates make it harder to build affordable housing in many parts of Maine. Some of those factors have also faced New Orleans architect Jonathan Tate, who will be the keynote speaker at Wednesday's Maine Real Estate and Development Association conference in Portland.

Tate spoke with Morning Edition Host Irwin Gratz about overcoming those challenges.

Note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Jonathan Tate: What we often say it's like the parts of the city that you move to New Orleans to live in, or the parts that were getting too expensive to live.

Irwin Gratz: So how did you overcome some of them?

One approach was looking for land or parcels of land that didn't appear to be developable, but in our estimation, we thought you could put housing there. And so that's what we work towards. And no one else was interested either. So we thought we'd give it a shot.

Were you able to hold down construction costs by using different material?

Yeah, definitely. Construction costs are one part of the equation. And we work to make those as tight as we can, or as low as we can. Part of that is through materiality. But where we really focus was just looking at the size of the house, what's the overall cost of it just relative to how much of a house you're building. And we think that's where design comes in. Even if it's an efficient floor plan, but a livable space, it doesn't need to be as big as a typical home, let's say. So material was a big part of that. But I would also say the other part of the equation is land cost, right. And in New Orleans, that number was going up, especially in the areas where we're looking, you know, astronomically higher than housing in some ways. And finding land that's less expensive in locations you want to live was really what we were trying to do as well.

In Portland, particularly on the city is also trying to attack this problem by telling developers of housing, you have to either set aside a certain percentage of housing to be at below market rates, or you have to pay into a fund. Have you run into anything like that before and is that helpful?

It's referred to as inclusionary zoning. We have those provisions in New Orleans, it has not stopped development in New Orleans, people still make housing. And it may complicate some of the financials around certain projects, especially ones that are are challenging to begin with. But it hasn't slowed down anything we're doing here and it's been in place for a number of years now. In other areas in the country that we work in it's it's often a similar provision. And as I say, it's something that just gets calculated and adopted as part of the part of how you work in a city.

Do you design homes specifically to be more affordable? Or do you find it easier or beneficial to build higher end dwellings and realize that at some level, any contribution to the housing stock is going to be helpful in a tight market?

Yeah, I agree with both of those sentiments actually, it's like, I'm a firm believer in the, you know, more housings better across the board. And, you know, there's data that proves that, I would say in terms of the work that we do, if it's work that we're developing on our own, which we do on occasion, I would call it sort of middle market housing, not necessarily affordable, which often means that there's some subsidy or some assistance in terms of how it's financed. And we don't do a lot of high end housing either. And could be people just aren't asking us to do it. So it's not not out of any proclivity on our part necessarily. It's just the nature of the work that we do. But I would say in all instances, is like there's, there's always an eye towards, like, how can we make something that is attainable and accessible to as many people as we can? And that's the ethos, I think in the work that we tried to produce.