LEWISTON — Councilors said they hoped a public housing project proposed for downtown lots where apartment buildings burned on May 3 would make the area better.

Volunteers of America Northern New England would bring meals, counseling and financial education to public spaces at their proposed Pierce Place development, Vice President of Business Development Julia Wilcock told city councilors at a workshop meeting Tuesday.

“One thing we do in Maine is provide all kinds of housing,” Wilcock said. “Unfortunately, we have not had the opportunity to provide housing in Lewiston.”

Volunteers of America hopes to build a new housing development on four lots — at 110 and 114 Pierce St., and 145 and 149 Bartlett St.

The project would use low-income-housing tax credits to help pay for the work and is striving to meet a Sept. 26 deadline.

“I think that it’s important to move, as they say, while the iron is hot,” Wilcock said. “We are moving forward, and hopefully this is a new enough issue that we can score high enough.”

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Lincoln Jeffers, Lewiston’s director of economic and community development, said the council will be asked to invest about $150,000 in the project. That includes the $72,694 the city has already spent cleaning up the site and demolishing the burned-out properties.

According to the proposed deal, the city would convey the properties to Volunteers of America Northern New England at no cost. The council would also agree to waive all development and building permit fees on the project — about $17,400 according to city staff — and would create a 15-year tax increment finance (TIF) district in place. That would rebate about half of the property taxes Volunteers of America would pay on the development.

“So all in, the level of participation the city would have going in on these four properties is between $144,000 and $152,000,” Jeffers said. “About half of that is already sunk costs. We’ve spent it and we don’t really anticipate being able to get it back.”

Councilors could vote on a joint development agreement for the project at the Sept. 17 meeting, and the Planning Board would review a development plan on Sept. 24.

If approved by the city and Maine Housing, Wilcock said the project could be ready for tenants by 2015. It would have 30 housing units — 13 two-bedroom units, 12 three-bedroom units and five four-bedroom units. One unit would be set aside for an on-site property manager. The rest would be available to Section 8 voucher recipients.

The building would be secured by lock and key, not by room buzzer. Residents would have to see every person they let in. That security measure, along with the on-site manager, should help to keep the property safe.

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“It helps deter things from happening,” she said. “If things are happening at night, we are right on it and we can take care of it.”

Mayor Robert Macdonald said that made him feel better about the project. He’s been a critic of public housing.

“I think that solves a problem,” Macdonald said. “It’s something we’ll be dealing with, disorderly conduct keeping other people up all night. It sounds like this will be at least controlled, like this won’t become a problem place where police have to be there night after night.”

Councilor Mark Cayer agreed.

“I have concerns that if we have too much Section 8 housing, we are losing a battle,” Cayer said. “But in this case, I look at it differently because of the services Volunteers of America will bring to the area. I think it could have a far-reaching effect for the general area.”

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