LEWISTON — Local housing markets that are tight as a drum and limited budgets mean there is very little local housing authorities can do to help fire victims.
Lewiston Housing Authority Director James Dowling said five of the families displaced by the fires on April 29 and May 3 have been receiving federal Section 8 vouchers and the housing authority has helped them find new homes.
But unless fire victims are already getting the authority's help, there is little his organization can do.
"We simply don't have capacity to deal with this," Dowling said. "When we have the opportunity to help on a case-by-case basis, we've done what we can. But it's a pretty bleak picture at the moment."
The housing authority distributes Section 8 vouchers to 1,100 Lewiston residents and has a closed waiting list with 1,000 other names waiting for vouchers to open.
Anyone seeking housing authority help needs to get in line behind those 2,100 families.
"We have not issued any new vouchers since September," Dowling said. "This is a climate of budget cuts and we've been doing the maximum that we can."
Richard Whiting, executive director of the Auburn Housing Authority, said he's in the same boat. He blamed a tight low-income housing market.
Overall, the 2010 Census bureau said the city of Lewiston has a 9.3 percent vacancy rate. The downtown area — from the river to East Avenue and from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Bridge south — has a 13.4 percent vacancy rate, according to the 2010 census.
Dowling thinks that's misleading.
"It's probably true that Lewiston has a fairly high vacancy rate, but that does not translate into affordability," Dowling said. "If someone's income is $700 a month and the rent is $800 a month, it just doesn't work. It's not that there are no units, just units they can afford."
Donald Poisson, president of the Lewiston-Auburn Landlords Association, said the fair market value housing pool is not much better.
"I think there might be some two-bedroom units available, for a price," Poisson said. "But the larger units — the three-, four- and five-bedroom units — those are pretty much all gone."
Poisson said his group does not keep track of available units but he does keep an eye on the classifieds sections — both in the paper and online.