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Midcoast Habitat for Humanity volunteers create first affordable neighborhood

The new development, Philbrick Commons, offers affordable housing opportunities in Rockland.

ROCKLAND, Maine — The music of the season—“Oh Come, All Ye Faithful”—could be heard from the porch of Jane Schroeder’s cozy home in Rockland. Inside, Schroeder played her piano as Gracie the cat watched birds from the window.

Schroeder has owned the home in Philbrick Commons for about a year and a half, a big change from being a renter with steadily rising costs. 

“I was living in Rockport, and I would look around at rents and I would spend my entire social security on rent with nothing left over,” Schroeder explained.

That was before a chance meeting with Tia Anderson.

Anderson is the executive director of Midcoast Habitat for Humanity, and she told Schroeder about Philbrick Commonsthe group’s new affordable housing project in Rockland.

Schroeder became the first person to buy one of the new homes and move in.

She has a one-bedroom house with a kitchen, bathroom, living room, and spacious front porch. The best part? The home has an affordable mortgage and is inexpensive to heat, she said.

Credit: NCM

“Oh, it's wonderful, it's wonderful,” Schroeder said, who is a former church choir director and organist.

“Definitely God’s plan ... I’m very grateful,” she added.

The Philbrick Commons development is a different approach for Midcoast Habitat for Humanity, which had previously built one to two larger houses each year, along with some renovations.

This project is an entire neighborhood of 12 one-to-two-bedroom small houses, ranging from about 650 to 800 square feet in size. It’s a response to the significant increase in the need for affordable homes, according to Anderson and Midcoast Habitat for Humanity Board Chair Susan Taylor. 

“It is severe,” Taylor said. “Sadly, there are just not enough houses. And we are finding people can’t find jobs because they can’t afford to live here.”

Like all Habitat for Humanity projects, this one is built almost entirely with volunteer labor, which significantly lowers the cost. 

Buyers of the homes have to meet income qualifications, Anderson said, which is generally earning 50 percent to 80 percent of the area’s median household income. They pay a third of their monthly income to cover the mortgage, taxes, and insurance. That makes the houses affordable, as does the fact that the homes are highly energy efficient, so heating and cooling costs are reasonable.

“It's so rewarding to give folks home ownership and stability,” Anderson said.

Seven of the houses are already complete and occupied, with one more almost finished and the remaining four scheduled to be finished by June 2023.

Credit: NCM

Schroeder said it feels like a real neighborhood, with a mix of agessome have children or younger adults, while she is a retiree.

“It's perfect,” Taylor said, referring to the mix of ages.

Anderson said it's also a working neighborhood.

“They are our bank tellers, our insurance agents, school teachers, firefighters. And we have retirees as well,” Anderson said.

Anderson said Midcoast Habitat for Humanity hasn’t given up on building three- to four-bedroom houses for larger families but also said they will be doing more small house developments because the need for affordable housing is so great.

“It reaches everyone, and the need is great that we will see more development like this from Habitat,” Anderson said.

Anderson will find plenty of agreement from people, like Schroeder, already living at the new complex. And others, like Ginny Millay and her husband Dave, checking out their new house currently under construction. 

They currently live in what Dave described as a 50-year-old trailer that the wind blows through.

“Honestly, we just feel blessed that we were chosen to be part of the habitat community,” Ginny Millay said. “Never dreamed it would happen for us.”

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