In multi-part series, exclusive to the Maine Real Estate Insider, we’ll provide an up-close look at the most notable commercial development projects of the past year that are helping to fuel Maine’s economy in terms of investment and job creation. MEREDA is proud to recognize responsible development based upon criteria including environmental sustainability, economic impact, energy efficiency, difficulty of the development, uniqueness, social impact and job creation.
Please join with us in celebrating Riverview Terrace Apartments in Westbrook.
MEREDA: Describe the building and project.
Riverview Terrace Apartments: Riverview Terrace is an 83-unit, scattered-site, senior affordable housing development in Westbrook, Maine. Building 1, at 21 Knight Street, features 58 apartments and was built circa 1973. Building 2, at 10 Liza Harmon Drive, features 25 apartments and was built circa 1983.
Originally developed as Public Housing, Riverview Terrace has been proudly operated for over 40 years by the Westbrook Housing Authority. However, following years of Federal budget cuts to public housing, Riverview Terrace faced mounting capital needs in a time of dwindling capital and operating assistance.
In 2015, Westbrook Housing partnered with Anew Development to pilot the HUD Rental Assistance Demonstration Program (RAD), which allows public housing to be privatized in the interest of preserving and enhancing affordable housing. The developers navigated RAD and pursued new capital investments. In 2018, the property underwent a nearly $7MM rehabilitation; bringing it into the 21st century by providing energy and life/safety improvements and general modernization.
Riverview Terrace was the first public housing property in Maine to be transitioned through the HUD RAD program and the developers’ successful navigation of this complex Federal program has provided a leading model for other public housing authorities across the state.
Renovations at Riverview Terrace provided numerous energy efficiency improvements from enhanced insulation and air-sealing to new windows and doors. These physical efficiency measures compound with the inherent transportation energy efficiencies that Riverview Terrace has always provided by virtue of its smart growth location in the heart of a major Westbrook/Portland service center area served by sidewalks and high frequency public bus service.
MEREDA: What was the impetus for this project?
Riverview Terrace Apartments: Affordable housing properties like Riverview Terrace provide precious housing assistance to area seniors in need. Regrettably, following years of Federal budget cuts to public housing, Riverview Terrace faced mounting capital needs in a time of dwindling capital and operating assistance. It was very clear to Westbrook Housing that something had to be done to address the mounting physical and financial needs of the project to preserve it for future generations.
The release of the Rental Assistance Demonstration Program (RAD) by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provided a unique opportunity to reimagine and rebuild Riverview Terrace and allow it to start anew.
MEREDA: That sounds like quite a process. How long were you in the planning stages before construction started?
Riverview Terrace Apartments: The HUD RAD public housing conversion program was approved by Congress in 2012 but it took until 2013 before project funding and guidelines for public housing became clear. In December of 2013, Westbrook Housing submitted Riverview Terrace to HUD among the earliest, first wave of public housing RAD conversion applications.
The early years of the RAD program were marked by very limited resources and still evolving administrative policies making the application process, at times, feel like a bold and uncertain move into uncharted territory. Indeed, the Riverview Terrace application was not immediately approved and spent the whole of 2014 on a waiting list awaiting the outcome of Congressional budget decisions.
In 2015, responding to very strong and mounting demand for the program nationally, Congress appropriated significant new resources to the program and Riverview Terrace was finally able to come off of the waiting list and receive its preliminary RAD approval.
That same year, the developers began working in earnest to secure a wide and diverse range of new sources of funding for the property such as low-income housing tax credits, private equity grants and low-interest housing loans, and tax increment financing. This process took the better part of two years to fully navigate but in 2017 the developers did secure the nearly $7MM in funds that would be needed to fully rehabilitate the property.
2018 saw the rehabilitation / construction process implemented. Managing a comprehensive renovation in a nearly fully occupied property presented challenges and required the rehabilitation work to be conducted in multiple phases with residents being temporarily accommodated elsewhere in their building while the renovation of their apartment was in progress.
All told, the developers invested over five years of effort to bring the RAD conversion and rehabilitation of Riverview Terrace from concept to completion.
MEREDA: Tell us about the most challenging aspect of getting this project completed.
Riverview Terrace Apartments: First it was the uncertainty of the newly minted and somewhat complex HUD RAD program; would we be approved? would there be funding available? Next there was the challenge of raising nearly $7MM in redevelopment capital from eight distinct sources. Finally, performing a deep and comprehensive renovation on a nearly fully occupied building.
MEREDA: Something unexpected you learned along the way was….
Riverview Terrace Apartments: Summitting mountain as large as this meant getting knocked down many times along the way. By maintaining our resolve and banding close with our strategic partners, we were able to repeatedly dust off our pants and keep hiking to the top. We all learned the importance of resisting doubt and discouragement, maintaining the vision, and persevering to the end.
MEREDA: Now that it’s complete, what feature of the project do you think makes it the most notable?
Riverview Terrace was the first public housing property in Maine to be transitioned through the HUD RAD program and the developers’ successful navigation of this complex Federal program. We have provided a leading model for other public housing authorities across the state.
Thanks to the combined efforts of the entire Riverview Terrace team, these 83 units of quality senior housing have been renewed and repositioned to serve scores of future Westbrook area seniors for generations to come in an environment that supports them not just with financial security but with independence, comfort, safety, social connectivity, and health and well-being.