Seacoast Residences: $2,100-plus for studio apartment highlights sky-high rental market

Seacoast Residences

Seacoast Residences, a new apartment complex in Kittery, Maine, is being marketed for lease. (Photo by Deb Cram, Seacoastonline)

The new Seacoast Residences complex is marketing nearly 300 apartments for lease at rates that shine a light on the issue of rental housing affordability in Kittery and around the Seacoast region.

The mega-development off Interstate 95 and Dennett Road has prices for a studio apartment of less than 550 square feet starting at $2,149 per month. One-bedroom units begin at $2,110 and two-bedroom apartments are at least $2,933, according to Jones Street Residential, the owner of the housing community. The Boston company states it manages more than 6,400 apartments in eight states. 

The Kittery apartment complex boasts an array of amenities for tenants, including electric vehicle charging stations, a fitness center, pet spa, resident lounge, fire pits, gas grills, an outdoor pool and private garages, while each apartment has in-unit laundry and stainless steel appliances. Seacoast Residences markets eight different apartment sizes and layouts with more than 150 of its 298 units still available, according to its website. Online searches for apartments in Portsmouth and other local communities turn up a wide range of prices with some similar to or even higher than Seacoast Residences.

However, while housing costs at Seacoast Residences and other apartments billed as luxury units are attainable for some, local leaders and housing advocates say the demand for housing at lower costs needs a big boost in supply.

“We need to be able to build more housing and make sure that the supply that we are creating is affordable to various income levels,” said Fair Tide Executive Director Emily Flinkstrom.

Maine’s housing data portal states 47.8% of all renter households in the state were cost burdened in 2022. This is defined as a household where 30% or more of household income is spent on housing. This March, the National Low Income Housing Coalition reported that Maine is short 17,772 rental units that are affordable and available to extremely low-income renters, with 23% of existing state renters having an extremely low income.

Income levels, housing scarcity and cost-burdened renters

In Kittery, Town Manager Kendra Amaral wrote in her fiscal year 2025 town budget proposal that affordable housing “is defined as housing that costs no more than 30% of household income if income is no more than 80% of the area median income.”

Amaral cited the Seacoast Residences complex, calling it “the most significant addition of housing to Kittery’s supply in many years,” and noted the price point of a two-person rental at the Dennett Road development.

Amaral cited data on rent and income charts published by MaineHousing, an independent state agency serving low- and moderate-income state residents, in her proposal. MaineHousing’s metro fair market rent designation for Berwick, Eliot, Kittery, South Berwick and York states a person earning 80% of the area median income, which would be $68,500, should pay no more than $1,712 per month for a studio unit, nor more than $1,834 per month for a one-bedroom unit. 

A two-person household at 80% of the area median income would collectively make $78,250 per year, and can afford $2,201 on rent each month, according to MaineHousing. Under the same area median income parameters, a four-person household making $97,800 can’t afford more than $2,836 monthly for a four-person apartment.

However, affordable housing is specific to individual renters and shouldn’t be thought of with a one-size-fits-all mindset, Flinkstrom said. Consideration — and a multitude of housing options — is needed for people who are far below 80% of the area median income.

“Every household has a different number of what is affordable to them,” she said. “When we’re having these conversations, about affordable housing in our community in the Seacoast area, we need to be (asking), ‘For whom is it affordable?’ Because the truth is that the rents that are being charged at the Seacoast Residences are affordable to those making whatever that income level is. But the issue is that we don’t have enough housing units that are at an affordable rate for many of the individuals that are living below that income level.”

Rental inventory in Kittery is minimal amid high demand

Regardless of unit type, whether located in a traditional apartment complex, single-family home, condominium or townhouse, available apartments are scarce in Maine’s oldest town. Popular apartment browsing websites — Zillow, realtor.com, apartments.com, Zumper and Craigslist — show few listings in Kittery. Though supply typically increases closer to the summertime due to vacancies, a review of online apartment listing sites showed fewer than 20 rental units of varying sizes in addition to those offered at Seacoast Residences. 

With limited supply, landlords and property owners have more leeway to increase the price on their rental units, Flinkstrom said.

Without diversifying housing stock and expanding inventory, a logjam is created. Flinkstrom said an elderly couple may stay in their longtime residence if no housing specific to seniors is available for purchase or rent. If they stay in their home, that prevents a young family from possibly moving into home ownership and may force them to continue renting, which then blocks people in emergency shelters from finding an apartment to potentially move into.

“It’s all just stuck. And so when we talk about increasing supply, we need to increase the supply in a diverse way that creates opportunities for those older individuals to downsize, for young families to buy starter homes, which don’t exist right now, and then freeing up the rental market so that there are actually rentals that are opening up and available,” Flinkstrom said. “We need to get the system moving again and creating opportunities for housing that’s affordable at various income levels.”

Prices and demand within the rental and home ownership markets in Kittery have inflated due to the town’s proximity to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the large size of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard’s employee population, plus Kittery’s natural beauty and amenities, Amaral wrote in her report.

“Overall, Kittery is in high demand,” she wrote. “The community is attracting mid-to-high income professionals and retirees. Businesses and property owners are responding accordingly by adjusting services, products, and prices to reflect the more affluent customers and clientele.”

The outlook is no brighter for would-be buyers in the local single-family home market, as the median list price of a Kittery residence in April was $710,000, a 29% increase year-over-year, per Amaral’s report citing the Multiple Listing Service. The town manager told the Town Council this month that around the time she was hired in 2016, the median list price of a single-family house in Kittery was approximately $285,000.

“At current rental rates, Kittery housing is unaffordable to laborers, service industry workers, entry-level employees, and young people,” Amaral’s budget proposal states. 

Kittery discussing the future of the business park zone after Dennett Landing blocked

Potential exists for future housing in the town’s business park zone after a massive mixed-use housing proposal was shut down in that area of Kittery two years ago and a development moratorium was enacted. 

A proposed 900-unit residential and commercial housing development on Dennett Road and Route 236, called Dennett Landing, was effectively barred from proceeding at the town Planning Board level two years ago, when a citizens’ petition called for changes to zoning. 

That area of town was then referred to as the mixed-use-neighborhood zone, but the resident petition led to the district being reverted back to its prior designation, the business park zone, which prevented proposed developments like Dennett Landing from being approved in that part of town. The business park zone promotes office and industrial park uses. 

In the summer of 2022, the Town Council also committed to rezoning the district in the future and put a development moratorium in place. The Seacoast Residences project is located in the business park zone, but because the project was approved prior to the zoning switch and moratorium, construction was allowed.

This spring, town leaders have held a public workshop on the rezoning of the business park district, gathering input from residents on their vision for the future of the zone. 

After the April 24 meeting, more public engagement will be needed to settle the question of how to move forward, according to town planning director Jason Garnham. 

“Attendees shared a lot of valuable input. One of the big takeaways is that a ‘standard’ zoning amendment process will not satisfy the community in this endeavor,” Garnham said. “It was generally agreed that a charrette should be the next step to help residents, staff, and property owners visualize potential outcomes in relation to the town’s and neighborhood’s goals.”

Town staff have recommended the district be rezoned to accommodate more housing through a mixture of building types and sizes, while also protecting wetlands and the area’s natural resources. Kittery planning personnel recommended similar existing models to consider, including the town’s residential-urban zone, which allows 2.2 units per acre of land, and the residential-suburban zone, which permits 1.45 units per acre.

Flinkstrom supports the idea of amending density requirements in applicable zones, in addition to initiating affordability requirements, in order to increase the level of housing units allowed in each zone. 

Each new affordable housing unit, little by little, makes a difference in the life of a cost-burdened renter. For instance, as Fair Tide and Footprints Food Pantry work to build and open the Mainspring social services hub on Shapleigh Road, Fair Tide is also creating six units of affordable housing at the site.

“It’s a crisis that doesn’t just impact Kittery but it impacts our neighboring communities, as well, and clearly has brought impact to businesses, our school systems, our emergency responders and our communities not being able to hire folks,” Flinkstrom said of the housing debate. “It’s a crisis that’s happening locally, happening regionally and happening across our country.”

A potential charrette to discuss the future of the business park zone has not been scheduled, though town officials are aiming to schedule another meeting on the district soon, according to Garnham. 

Nicole Caiazza, vice president of marketing for Jones Street Residential, did not respond to a request for comment.

This article is being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information, visit collaborativenh.org. 


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