LEWISTON — Members of a downtown housing advocacy group Wednesday stepped up their call for better code enforcement and faster city response to complaints.

Members of the Neighborhood Housing League rallied outside 91 Knox St. to urge the Lewiston City Council to add two housing code officers to the city’s code enforcement department. Residents complained that current staffing levels are below half of the national average.

“Lewiston has the highest amount of elevated lead blood levels in the state, a direct result of the age of our housing stock and, each year, hazard calls represent more than half of the calls placed to the city’s fire department,” Shanna Rogers, resident coordinator of the Neighborhood Housing League, said. “For decades our code enforcement office has been understaffed, making it difficult for current officers to follow up and follow through with code violation complaints.”

The group kicked off its effort in March, meeting with councilors and encouraging them to expand the city’s building inspection staff.

Councilors at that meeting said that they appreciate the group’s efforts but doubted the city would be adding any new employees this year because of budget constraints.

The Community Development Block Grant committee has recommended that the City Council use block grant funds to hire at least one code enforcement officer.

Housing league members said that this is a start but urged the city to fund both positions in the general budget and make safe housing a priority.

“Most of the people I work with have already contacted their landlords many times,” league member Hussein Muktar said. “Even after Code Enforcement becomes involved, it often isn’t enough to change the problem. We need a stronger, better-staffed code office to enforce the current city housing codes.”

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