Renovation of Neglected Rosa True School Expands Affordable Housing Options in Portland

WASHINGTON, D.C. – (RealEstateRama) — As the proverb goes, big things often come in small packages. For Portland developer Kevin Bunker, the City of Portland, Maine Housing, and Coastal Enterprises, Inc. (CEI), the historic Rosa True School in the city’s East End represents not just an architecturally important building, but a resource to society as well.

“With low income housing in high demand in Portland, our aim was to save the building while increasing the efficiency and number of units in the space,” said Kevin Bunker, principal at Developers Collaborative, an association of independent real estate developers interested in projects that build community. “This was a relatively small project, but the 1844 school is worth stepping in and preserving.”

Adding affordable units on the Peninsula was a high priority for the City of Portland, who deferred the existing debt on the project and provide additional resources to help the project achieve feasibility. Housing is considered “affordable” if the household spends no more than 30% of its income on housing-related costs (mortgage or rent, utilities, taxes, insurance, and maintenance). The median rent in Portland is $1,183. Rent at Rosa True is $990 for a two bedroom apartment and $1,139 for a three bedroom apartment. The building is fully rented. Financing for the project was made possible through a $308,000 State Historic Tax Credit equity investment from CEI, which has provided loans for since 1992 for property maintenance and repairs.

We are thrilled to see this building getting the attention that it needs and deserves, as both an historic property, and a long-term, high quality solution for Portland’s affordable housing needs.This is exactly the kind of project that exemplifies the mission of the State Historic Tax Credit program—where we are giving new life to an old building, supporting downtown revitalization, and also providing housing for people with low incomes.

Named for a longtime teacher and principal who died in in 1917, the Rosa E. True School is an historic property at 140 Park Street. When it was closed in 1972 after 128 years, it was the longest serving public school building in contiguous use. In 1987, Greater Portland Landmarks launched a $5,000 revolving loan to help convert the property into a multi-unit apartment building.

The renovation involved building two additional two bedroom units, and converting another into ADA accessible. Much of the building envelope was in great need of repair to maintain a watertight environment and keeping the historic integrity of the building. Significant repointing of the brickwork needed to be completed to keep the building weather tight.

People gather to celebrate the opening of the Rosa True School affordable housing.
In 1992, anti-gentrification efforts and the availability of tax credits contributed to the new life of the property as an eight-unit low income apartment building. All of the historic fabric retained in the rehabilitation of 1992 remains today. On the exterior, a majority of the building has been re-pointed while original windows and doors have been repaired. On the interior, the two historic main staircases remain. The corridors feature beaded board wainscoting, historic door casings and picture rails. Within the units themselves, the wainscoting remain with historic chalkboards and window trim.

The greatest challenge to the project was accomplishing a total rehabilitation of an unfinished basement while the majority of the units above were occupied. This resulted in a lot of coordination between the Contractor Hardy Pond, the Property Manager Avesta and the occupants. Every water turn off and electrical turn off was executed with the tenants in mind. The largest inconvenience was the spray insulation where upon tenants had to be housed in local hotels for a few days and children transported to school.

The foundation has been completely waterproofed around the two new units and new utility tie-ins were accomplished as well. The two new units, having started from scratch, have more modern amenities and are flush with light from restored or replaced windows. The original stone exterior wall was left exposed in one of the units showing an outline of the original window locations, now an interior wall since the 1900 expansion.

ABOUT DEVELOPERS COLLABORATIVE
Developers Collaborative is an association of like-minded independent real estate developers interested in projects that build community. While this can mean different things, core themes like smart growth, environmental sustainability, affordable housing, and innovative design are central in our work.

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