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Three empty courthouses could become affordable housing in southern Maine

The former district court building in downtown Biddeford is pictured on Dec. 5, 2012. It is one of three defunct courthouse buildings that Gov. Janet Mills wants to turn into housing under a bill backed by a legislative committee on Tuesday.
Seth Koenig
/
BDN
The former district court building in downtown Biddeford is pictured on Dec. 5, 2012. It is one of three defunct courthouse buildings that Gov. Janet Mills wants to turn into housing under a bill backed by a legislative committee on Tuesday. 

State lawmakers are considering a proposal to transform three vacant courthouse buildings in York, Biddeford and Sanford into affordable housing.

A new bill would allow the state to convey the three empty facilities to local housing authorities for their own redevelopment projects. The Legislature's Housing Committee voted Tuesday in support of the measure; it now faces further votes in the House and Senate.

The buildings have been vacant since York County judicial personnel moved into one new complex last spring.

The state is paying $350,000 a year to maintain the vacant buildings. Anya Trundy of the Maine Department of Administrative and Financial Services said the state is interested in transferring the properties for a "nominal" cost.

"Our hope is that this will help to jumpstart these properties' redevelopment as housing," she said. "All are large buildings, currently in relatively good condition that MaineHousing has already assessed and determined capable of being converted to housing."

Local housing authorities told state lawmakers this week they're interested in redeveloping the properties.

Guy Gagnon, executive director of Biddeford Housing Authority, said the former courthouse could help bring down redevelopment costs for a potential affordable housing project, which he described as a "gamechanger."

"We're way ahead of the game on the cost spectrum as far as creating housing there," he said. "That's not something we have happen to us very often. Usually we're redeveloping the worst building in town."

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