LEWISTON — Landlord Amy Smith said Lewiston’s housing problems stem from two basic causes — tenants and landlords.

“A real sticking point seems to be the quality of care given to the house, whether it’s on the landlord’s part or the tenant’s part,” Smith said. “The whole idea is to create shared understanding of what it takes to be good stewards of a property.”

Smith would like to change that with a nonprofit initiative she’s calling Healthy Homeworks.

Overall, the effort would encourage Lewiston’s landlords to work with tenants to keep their apartments and buildings clean, healthy and well-maintained.

“Tenants may not know how — or don’t have the means — to care for buildings properly,” she said. “Landlords may not have the means to do what needs to be done. They might not be able to afford not to defer maintenance. People are struggling, but I think landlords care about their buildings.”

Longer term, it would help provide jobs and training to some of the city’s urban poor.


“Landlords sponsor it, and they say they want their tenants to be successful,” she said. “The landlord commits to it and the tenant agrees to participate. And hopefully, conditions for both improve.”

But at its most elementary, the program would teach downtown residents the basics of housecleaning and home maintenance — how to clean a floor, change a light bulb or stop a toilet from overflowing. They’d get a six-month supply of cleaning products, new beds and a certification that they could use on their next housing application.

Smith is looking for funding.

She figures $16,000 should get her started. That would carry the program through its first phase, starting with her newest Howard Street apartment building, expanding to offer services to other landlords and culminate in creating a bed factory in Lewiston.

Smith owns a building in Portland and two buildings in Lewiston, including one she just purchased. She’s learned that Lewiston is a different kind of market.

“What I am trying to say is that this relationship, between tenant and landlord, can be productive and healthy as long as people are willing to try,” she said.


She’ll start with the lease in her newest building. Rather than a vague requirement that tenants would keep their units clean, it will include a clause requiring them to participate in her Healthy Homeworks training.

“The concept for that is one of our training specialists would show up and teach them the basics: how to clean a bathtub, how to run a dishwasher and so on,” she said. “Two family members would participate and at the end, you’d leave them with a checklist of what they need to do as well as all the products and tools to do this for six months.”

They come back for six months for a training session.

“If there’s been any movement, they get another deep clean, another six months of supplies,” she said. “If they go a year, we’ll certify them and give them another year’s worth of supplies.”

They’ll also get a certification that can go on an application for their next housing unit, a signal to future landlords that they are a good tenant.

“And then I can hire them to be the teachers going forward,” she said. “The idea is to help employ the constituency you are trying to serve.”


She’d certify landlords as well. They’d contract with Healthy Homeworks and agree to keep their units at a certain level of maintenance. The first level would be healthy and safe enough to pass a federal Section 8 housing inspection. They’d add wireless internet, laundry facilities and cleaning supplies for the “Better” rating. They’d provide bedbug-proof bedding for the “Best” rating.

“This is saying that as a landlord, you can treat for bedbugs all day long and every day of the week and have miserable tenants — or you can nip it in the bud and give them beds and mattresses that are protected,” she said.

And the beds figure in to her final step. She wants to create a factory to make simple pine twin-size and full-size beds in Lewiston that could be sold around the country. Tenants in the program that apprentice with her for 16 hours would get a free bed and be eligible for an hourly position.

“Or they can volunteer for 16 more hours and get another free bed,” she said. “I don’t care how many times they come back.”


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