By Carla Charter
PORTLAND, MAINE- Many communities are seeking answers to the conundrum of rising rents and lack of affordable housing. Portland Kenneth Capron founding director of Memoryworks has proposed a unique solution to Portland’s affordable housing dilemma, using a cruise ship to house those squeezed out of the housing market.
“Rents in Portland have increased incredibly. The waiting list for public housing stands at 1,100. In Portland 200 people every night are homeless. in Maine there are approximately 1,200 people homeless every night. Rents are at 1,000 or more for a 1-bedroom apartment in Portland which puts housing out of reach for people who are struggling.”
“If you are only making $10 an hour its hard to build up a security deposit. If you lose your job or go bankrupt, there is a good chance you don’t have the security deposit up front to get housed,” he continued.
Portland currently houses those without housing at their Oxford Street Shelter. Capron explained this shelter is at capacity most of the time. The city began to look at a process to expand the shelter by looking for a location to build another shelter. “The problem is they didn’t ask the community about the placement. It was not a good location. It was right outside a senior facility, there was a public school a few hundred yards away,” Capron said.
Capron explained what other elements the cruise ship housing would incorporate. “The homeless were just the tipping point. We are also looking at using it for workforce housing, immigrant housing and affordable housing. Immigrants are a big part of this community. There would also be places there for job training and workforce training, the services to make them productive members of society. We want them to become part of the community, not become ostracized to a remote location. We are hoping we are changing perceptions as much as changing the facilities they are living in. “
As for where the cruise ship would come from Capron explained, “There are quite a few boatyards in Scandinavia building 4,000 to 6,000- person ships as these are more profitable for the cruise lines “One 6,000-person boat can replace 5 to 7 of the smaller boats. So the smaller boats are sitting idle and are either scrapped for metal or sunk at sea. I believe using them as housing is a third alternative. These ships can last 100 years if they are taken care of. “
Capron continued the boat which would be considered for this project would be a ship built somewhere between 1960-1980 and in the 10 to 12 million range. “We will take a newer one if someone will give us one,” he mused.
The project, if it is deemed feasible would be financed through a mutual benefit corporation. “It’s similar to a credit union where depositors are owners. People who put money in will be the ship owners and have a say about all policies, uses, maintenance and care. “
Feedback for Capron’s proposal was heard at a recent public hearing. “It is important to hear both positive and negative because if we just listen to people who agree with us we learn nothing at all.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Grant feasibility study application will be submitted next week and Capron said “We should hear back in Mid-January.”
“I think it’s a great option for any coastal community that is dealing with any housing population that is struggling right now. Martha’s Vineyard has shown interest in our project. They have shortage of affordable housing as well.”