LEWISTON — Twin Cities mayors made a lunchtime pitch to U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Friday, asking for help reshaping the downtown area’s housing.

“One of the signature federal programs that support our downtown is the Community Development Block Grant program and the senator has a unique role in that,” Auburn Mayor Jonathan LaBonte said. “Whether it’s existing resources or new resources, she has perspective on what we can do.”

Collins, home in Maine while Congress is on break, stopped in Auburn to visit the Thomas Moser workshop for the company’s 40th anniversary. She was on her way to her Lewiston office to meet with some constituents before continuing on up to Bangor for the weekend.

LaBonte said he took the opportunity to invite her and his Lewiston counterpart, Mayor Robert Macdonald, to New Auburn’s Firehouse Grill for lunch.

“Lewiston and Auburn have been receiving CDBG funding for decades and the intent of that program has been to improve local housing stock and reduce poverty,” LaBonte said. “Unfortunately, we have higher rates of poverty in areas than the rest of the state population. So we want to understand, what it is that’s not working.”

Collins is the senior Republican on the Housing and Urban Development appropriations subcommittee, with jurisdiction over the CDBG program.

Both mayors have made middle-income downtown housing a big issue — Macdonald during his campaign for Lewiston mayor last fall and LaBonte over the last month with his criticism of new low-income housing projects.

Macdonald said he and Labonte hoped to present the details of a proposed housing committee in the next few weeks. 

The committee would be made up of one city councilor and three residents from each city. It would be tasked with bringing middle-income housing to the Twin Cities’ downtown, from Lisbon Street in Lewiston past Main Street in Auburn.

Collins said she was impressed to see the mayors working together.

“They are working collaboratively, and I think they will benefit the two communities,” she said. “I’m eager to help, if there are federal resources that might be brought to bear to achieve their goals, revitalize the downtown and improve transportation.”

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