Kristen Cloutier: A chance to improve the quality of Lewiston’s housing stock

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On Nov. 4, Lewiston voters will decide whether local landlord Phyllis St. Laurent will be allowed to rebuild the apartment building she lost to the fires that tore through downtown Lewiston in April and May, 2013.

A group of residents, led by another local landlord, Stan Pelletier, want to repeal the City Council order to authorize the city administrator to execute a joint development agreement between the city of Lewiston and St. Laurent Housing Associates; the results of which will have direct and long-lasting effects on the future of economic development in our great city.

Many half-truths have been circulating within the community about Pierce Place. Here are the facts:

The block in which this project is proposed has been hard hit by fires, demolitions, abandoned buildings and blight. Real estate values have been on a long decline. Reconstruction of Pierce Place will serve as bulwark against that decline. It would be the first step toward stabilizing the neighborhood and setting it on the path to recovery, making it more attractive for future investment. It will provide safe, decent and affordable workforce housing — housing that will benefit “the working poor,” among others.

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Redevelopment of Pierce Place will retain project-based federal support for the entire project. This provides a reliable income stream coupled with a requirement that the property be well managed and maintained. Both St. Laurent and LHA are long-time Lewiston property owners with a proven track record of caring for their properties and tenants.

Voters are encouraged to look at other St. Laurent properties, which are not in disrepair, but much the opposite, providing safe, affordable and attractive housing to downtown residents.

In addition, Lewiston Housing Authority and its developments have been providing aspirations programming to adolescent residents, and senior and disabled residents are given the opportunity to participate in various enrichment activities on a regular basis.

With the project not yet designed, a precise estimate of future assessed value has not yet been made. However, estimates of the minimum future assessed value, based upon the joint development agreement approved by the City Council and developer, would increase from today’s $132,890 to a minimum of $1,400,000. At today’s mil rate of .02659, the annual taxes generated from the real estate would increase from $3,533 to $37,226.

The structure of low-income housing tax credits require that the real estate financed be taxable, regardless of whether it is owned/managed by a for-profit or nonprofit entity. It is proposed that 50 percent of that tax revenue be put back into assistance programs for local landlords.

All of those increased taxes will stay in Lewiston. The project will pay development review and building permit fees.

Lewiston’s level of direct participation in helping finance the project is limited to the taxes and demolition costs associated with 116 and 122 Pierce Street and 155 Bartlett Street — amounts that the city has already effectively foregone.

This is an opportunity to improve the quality of Lewiston’s housing stock, replace quality affordable housing that was lost to arson, maintain federal support for work force housing within the city (which otherwise will eventually be lost) and to take a significant step toward turning one of Lewiston’s most challenged neighborhoods around.

No additional new city investment will be required.

By voting “no” on Lewiston Question 1, voters can send the message that Lewiston wants to rebuild.

Kristen S. Cloutier is Lewiston city councilor for Ward 5.

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