This is part of an ongoing series about Lewiston housing. Ideas? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lewiston wants to transform the housing in its downtown and is seeking $30 million in federal funds to help. It would be the smallest city to ever win a competitive Choice Neighborhoods implementation grant, though Lewiston has already beaten the odds to win a $1.3 million planning grant from the program.
But how, exactly, will Maine’s second largest city tackle the complex housing, economic and health challenges in its downtown? That’s all in a 250-page plan — developed over a year and a half, with input from 400 residents speaking eight different languages — that was unanimously endorsed by the Lewiston City Council last week.
Here’s what’s in it, how it came to be and why it matters.
Why downtown Lewiston?
Downtown Lewiston is the poorest neighborhood in the state. It’s home to three of the four poorest census tracts in Maine. (The fourth is across the Androscoggin River in downtown Auburn.) In the downtown Tree Streets neighborhood, 49 percent of people are living in poverty, according to the city. For families with children, the poverty rate is 62 percent.
Downtown Lewiston’s housing is old, and much of it needs costly maintenance. In its successful planning grant application, the city told the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development its downtown housing was mostly “constructed, cheaply, in the 1890s through 1920s.” Nearly a third of the housing in the Tree Streets is considered “distressed or failing,” according to a recent survey coupled with an analysis of code violations.
The combination of old, decaying housing and demographics has created a dire situation. Because downtown Lewiston is home to the highest concentration of children under 5 in the state, the city is a hotspot for childhood lead poisoning, which can cause lifelong behavioral and cognitive problems. In 2017, the childhood lead poisoning rate in Lewiston was nearly double the state average.