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Councilors recommit to Quay, move deal forward

Due diligence yet to come, but affordable housing buy is closer after council action.

There was no intervening background music.

Still, after issuing a series of thank-yous from the podium at City Hall Wednesday night, Sue Yuzer, executive director of the Lutheran Alliance to Create Housing, suddenly cut herself off.

“I sound like I’m at the Oscars, don’t I?” she jokingly asked City Councilors, who had just voted to push ahead the purchase of the Quay Bainbridge Apartments.

Yuzer admitted that the ultimate trophy – in this case the keys to the Quay, considered by advocates to be the last bastion of affordable housing in Winslow – is still several steps from the community’s mantle.

But with Wednesday’s decision, which reconfirmed the council’s conditional commitment to the purchase, the city inched ever closer to preserving 57 units of long-term affordable housing.

The 70-unit Quay sits on several parcels near Waterfront Park and is home to a diverse group of islanders. Housing agencies last year asked the city to help them match a $12.6 million offer made by developers that, if agreed upon, would likely turn the complex into market rate housing.

Last year’s council made the initial commitment to help fund the project, but several details remained unresolved.

Two separate Quay votes were taken by the council Wednesday.

One approved the allocation of $100,000 from the city’s Housing Trust Fund to pay for the due diligence work on which councilors will base their final decision.

Of that money, $25,000 will go toward a non-refundable earnest money deposit, which will be matched collectively by the other partners in the deal – LATCH, the island’s Housing Resources Board and a group of private donors.

The 90-day due diligence period will include an independent appraisal of the property, among other components. Work can begin after the signing of a purchase and sale agreement, which could happen as soon as next week.

The council’s second vote approved a resolution to allocate $3.85 million over two years toward the purchase. The council had already agreed to fund that amount, but the resolution clarified that the money would come via councilmanic bonds.

Councilors and dealmakers reiterated several times that the purchase won’t move ahead without a satisfactory appraisal and other confirmation that the deal is sound.

Because of time constraints, no vote was taken on a third agenda item regarding a list of preliminary conditions on which the deal would hinge.

Councilors may discuss that, along with the city’s long-term affordable housing policy, at a workshop next week.

Lone ‘no’

As he was in December, Councilman Kjell Stoknes was the lone dissenter Wednesday.

Before the vote he gave a brief presentation to his colleagues based on his analysis of the planned purchase.

Stoknes said he supports affordable housing, but thinks the city could find a better deal and could provide more units – perhaps as many as 163 over the next 20 years – by using the same money to buy units on less expensive land.

Among other things, Stoknes compared apartment sales listings elsewhere on the island to the purchase price of the Quay and concluded that per-unit costs at the apartment complex – once needed renovations are factored in – are higher than per unit costs at other buildings.

Quay advocates refuted Stoknes’ analysis, saying it fails to account for the revenue that will be generated by the sale of 13 units at market rate to help fund the rest of the purchase.

Factor that in, they said, and the city will pay about $175,000 per unit at the Quay, much lower than the $309,000 tabulated by Stoknes.

Backers also believe the Quay deal is unique because the sellers have a strong interest in preserving the complex as affordable housing, and are willing to make concessions that other building owners might not.

Though outnumbered behind the dais, Stoknes wasn’t alone in his opposition to the deal.

Developer Dick Allen said that if the city wants to support affordable housing, it shouldn’t choose properties located on prime real estate. Like Stoknes, he thinks there could be cheaper alternatives.

“This is totally wrong,” he said. “Affordable housing doesn’t have to be a breath away from Town & Country.”

Allen also alluded to the city’s purchase last year of open space at Meigs Farm.

After that purchase, a second appraisal of the land came in drastically lower than the price the city paid.

Council Chair Bill Knobloch agreed the city has recently seen conflicting appraisals, but expressed his confidence in those handling the Quay transaction.

“We have the ghost of Meigs Farm hanging over us and also the age of the building,” he said. “(But) the council already made a commitment – we’re following through with this.”

Councilwoman Hilary Franz, who wasn’t on the council at the time of the Quay’s initial approval, expressed her support, as did the other new members of the council, Kim Brackett and Barry Peters.

“The Quay is more than preserving affordable housing,” Franz said. “It’s about preserving community. It’s about preserving history and diversity.”

Though dealmakers took brief pause to celebrate Wednesday’s decision, they agreed that the victory was just one in a series of “do-or-die” moments.

“This isn’t the last one,” said private donor representative Ed Kushner, who like Yuzer expressed gratitude following the vote.

“Thanks for giving us the opportunity to see if this whole thing is really worth all the work we’ve done to get this far.”

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