Landlords question Lewiston candidates

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Lewiston City Council Ward 5 candidate Charles Soule stands to make a point during a candidate forum at the C & J Hall in Lewiston on Tuesday. Council candidates, from left, are John Butler, Leslie Dubois, Nathan Libby, Doreen Christ, Darcy Reed, Kristen Cloutier, Soule, Richard White, Mark Cayer, Richard Desjardins and Michael Lachance.

LEWISTON — Landlords gathered to question local candidates Tuesday night on topics including low-income housing projects and how much government is too much.

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Lewiston City Council Ward 4 candidates Doreen Christ, left, and Darcy Reed participate in a candidate forum at the C & J Hall in Lewiston on Tuesday.

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Lewiston City Council Ward 1 candidates John Butler and Leslie Dubois participate in a candidate forum at the C & J Hall in Lewiston on Tuesday.

The Lewiston Auburn Landlords Association hosted candidates running for City Council seats, giving each two minutes to address specific concerns brought forth by the association.

Mayoral candidates Robert Macdonald and Laurent Gilbert were not present at the event.

Macdonald sent word that he was having a medical procedure in the morning, hindering his evening activities. Gilbert told the Sun Journal he never received an invitation and was attending his 50th high school reunion in California.

Question 1: What is your stand and how would you vote on increasing low-income or subsidized housing projects, much like what was presented recently by the Volunteers of America?

Michael Lachance: Only if these were private developments employing Maine developers, Maine contractors and not basically free projects, because those are never free. Local developers, local investment, I would support.

Richard Desjardins: We keep an open mind and see what the effects are for the local landlords and the community itself.

Mark Cayer: My stance hasn't changed. When you look at the city as a whole, there needs to be a combination of effects and so I would support it if I thought the project was worthy and I thought the Volunteers of America project was worthy.

Richard White: This issue was addressed to me before. The only way I would agree with such a development is if it was a local contractor, local architect and 80 percent of the existing workforce was hired locally. That would be the only way I would endorse such a project because it actually would encourage economic growth.

Charles Soule: There's only one thing that hasn't been mentioned: Why aren't they including you people in these plans? If they're going to buy something with community dollars, why aren't they asking you? Why are they excluding you?

Kristen Cloutier: First of all, I think it's important to remember that Section 8 housing also covers senior citizens and disabled and it's not necessarily just for low-income housing. I think the fine line is for asking how each of these individual projects would support the economic development of the city as a whole.

Darcy Reed: My opinion on the issue has not and will not change. I am willing to listen to other people's views, but as far as the VOA contracts, I am completely against it. It's not because I'm anti-Section 8 at all. The VOA project, if that never happened, it's not that we would be losing all of those vouchers and I think that's important to remember. The amount of money those people put into those buildings is unreal. I think they said something like $163,000 per unit is how much they spend. On 28 units, are you kidding me?

Doreen Christ: I believe in local investment and support of all the landlords and I was not in support of the VOA project because I don't believe that they should be given any tax breaks.

Nathan Libby: I think it's important that members of the council remain open-minded on a case-by-case basis. With the Volunteers of America project, I did support that development. The city side of the investment is about $150,000. With new property-tax revenue coming in, the city would see that paid back in about 10 years. And the $6 million used to build that project is private-sector money. I just want to make sure that's understood. Tax credits offered by the federal government, purchased by the private sector, would have financed that project. It wasn't a $6 million federal give-away.

Leslie Dubois: I downloaded that contract and I read it and I was absolutely floored that the city would even think of going for that contract. They had at least a dozen outs. I didn't like anything that was said in it, all the way down to the tax break. I went in there with that in my mind and then when I heard what everybody else had to say, I'm like, "Yeah, yeah, yeah." I would have voted no, and I still would vote no, but on the next project I have to look and see what the project is and listen to what else everybody has to say before giving an opinion.

John Butler: I am more than happy to support anyone in this room, and I mean anyone in this room, who wants to come up with a project because we have plenty of land. We have torn buildings down. We are willing to do (tax-increment financing), so any of you who wants to step up and do a project, we need some new housing. We need some larger housing units for our immigrant population. I am more than happy, and this City Council is more than happy, to work with you in that. But it's you who has to step up.

Question 2: The Lewiston police chief has told the landlords that in order to reduce disorderly conduct events, he intends on submitting to the council an ordinance that would fine or otherwise punish the landlords if the tenants of the building have numerous charges of disorderly conduct. If you are elected and had to vote, how would you vote on any ordinance like one being proposed by the police chief, or any other ordinance that is similar and seeks to punish the landlords for tenants' behavior?

(Note: This ordinance was introduced by Mayor Macdonald, not Chief Michael Bussiere.)

John Butler: Before this would ever pass, I think it would have to go through a lot of scrutiny. The police chief would have to explain a lot of things and you're not in your buildings 24/7. You hope they behave; sometimes they don't behave.

Leslie Dubois: Not one of us can control another person. You can't control what they do and I don't think landlords should be punished for what their tenants do. The police are called in. They need to be responsible for taking care of the tenant.

Nathan Libby: For my apartment, I do extensive background checks and I've had very good luck so far. This is one solution that I think one person has come up with. I haven't seen it and I don't know the details, so I can't say for sure. 

Doreen Christ: The tenants need to take responsibility for their own behaviors.

Darcy Reed: I don't think that there's any of us in here who says that they don't try their hardest to maintain their buildings and keep their tenants quiet and things like that. I don't think there should be a law, yet again, that makes landlords responsible for their tenants' behavior.

Kristen Cloutier: I would like to know the details of the ordinance. But based upon the description, I don't think I would be in favor.

Charles Soule: I think the police chief should be reminded who he's accountable to. That's you, the landlords, and other taxpayers. It's insane.

Richard White: You guys are the landlords, not baby sitters. Our goal has been based on personal accountability. Tenants are responsible for their own actions.

Mark Cayer: Just so everybody doesn't think this was initiated by Chief Bussiere, Mayor Macdonald brought this to the council for general discussion after he had heard that Biddeford has a successful program. The problem is there is a segment of the landlords from out of state who could care less about their building.

Richard Desjardins: I've talked to a couple landlords. They think the Biddeford ordinance is a good ordinance.

Michael Lachance: If the tenants are breaking the law, we shouldn't be punishing the landlords. We should be punishing the tenants. If the problem is mainly with out-of-state landlords, we should look at out-of-state landlords, maybe, in a different light.

Question 3: Which of these statements best describes you? I favor expanded government. I favor limited government.

Michael Lachance: Limited.

Richard Desjardins: Limited.

Mark Cayer: Limited.

Charles Soule: Limited.

Kristen Cloutier: Moderated government.

Darcy Reed: Limited.

Doreen Christ: Limited.

Nathan Libby: Limited.

Leslie Dubois: Limited.

John Butler: Limited.

dmcintire@sunjournal.com

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RAYMOND FRECHETTE's picture

There is a housing problem in

There is a housing problem in Lewiston that has existed for quite a while and our City officials should be taking steps to ameliorate the problem. The simple fact is that there is too much housing available which creates a dangerously high vacancy rate. If Lewiston were to take a survey of every rental housing unit in the City regardless of whether it is habitable or not and find out how many are vacant then the City could take positive steps to remedy the situation. They should also determine how many are actually fit for human habitation and how many are in need of major and minor upgrades. From there the City could plan to bring the vacancy rate to a healthy level. 5% vacancy has been used n the past as a healthy vacancy rate where tenants can find suitable housing and landlords can find suitable tenants. At that point there could be no excuse for any code violation and the City could keep on top of problem buildings. To get to that 5% figure the City must recognize that the problem has been created by developers that have used government funds (taxpayer dollars) to create housing from buildings that were not housing such as old schools, stores, auto dealerships new construction etc. and in the future require that any development of taxpayer funded dollars be required to tear down a multiple of any new units created possibly in the range of 1.5 for each new unit. Thus a new property or converted property with 12 units would need to tear down 18. Not only would this take care of high vacancy and do away with dilapidated buildings it could create open space for other uses as parking, playgrounds, gardens etc. The City would also have to get aggressive with those landlords who chose not to maintain their units and close them down. The City should also keep a priority list of buildings in need of demolition or rehabilitation.

As far as holding owners responsible for tenant's behavior, this would be illegal and not enforceable in court. However, by getting rid of sub-standard buildings, getting vacancy rate down, and with enhanced code enforcement, I believe the problem landlords and tenants would soon be looking for an "easier" City to be in.

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