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Three buildings in downtown Lewiston are scheduled for demolition in early December as part of a larger effort to improve the downtown’s housing stock. The tear-downs aren’t happening at the behest of private owners, however. They are coming down under the name of a local nonprofit.
Community Concepts Inc., a nonprofit that provides a variety of social services to low-income residents, recently purchased the three structures — at 107 Bartlett St., 119 Bartlett St. and 42 Walnut St. It financed the purchases with a loan from The Genesis Fund, a Brunswick-based nonprofit community loan program.
Now, with city help, it is having the unoccupied buildings destroyed so they can be remade into safe housing, said Shawn Yardley, CEO of Community Concepts. After the demolitions, Community Concepts anticipates transferring the property to the Lewiston Auburn Area Housing Development Corp., a nonprofit arm of the Lewiston Housing Authority, which will work on developing housing at the sites in the next few years.
The demolitions demonstrate the role nonprofits have played in efforts to transform the downtown, not just through advocacy or service offerings, but through the acquisition of distressed housing.
Community Concepts is a partner in the transformation efforts of the city, which plans to pay $135,000 for the demolition, using the city’s demolition fund and credits from an agreement with renewable energy company ReEnergy. Yardley said the properties also were purchased in coordination with city staff.
While some have expressed concern that purchases by nonprofits are taking property off the tax rolls, Community Concepts has continued to contribute to the city’s coffers despite its tax-exempt status and has paid taxes on much of the property.
The housing authority’s development corporation will continue the taxation arrangement after it takes ownership, Lewiston Housing Authority Executive Director Chris Kilmurry said.
Since the beginning of December 2018, Community Concepts and its subsidiary Lewiston/Auburn Community Housing Inc. have purchased 12 properties in downtown Lewiston, six of which are vacant or parking lots. Three of the properties are three-family residences, two are office spaces and another is an apartment building, according to city records. In total, the assessed value of the properties is $1.4 million.
At the current tax rate, that property would be expected to generate $40,000 in tax revenue if it weren’t owned by a tax-exempt entity. Despite its tax exempt status, Community Concepts is paying more than $27,000 in taxes on the 12 properties it recently acquired.
“We want to be a good neighbor,” Yardley said. “We understand the pressure that municipalities have.”
In total, Community Concepts will pay $116,739 to the city in 2019. That sum accounts for the combined taxes on all its properties plus a $41,000 payment in lieu of taxes, Yardley said. Community Concepts and its subsidiaries own roughly $6 million in Lewiston property, according to a BDN analysis of city records.
Nonprofit organizations can gain tax-exempt status by demonstrating to state and federal authorities that they are pursuing missions related to the public good.
In comparison, St. Mary’s Health System, which runs nonprofit St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center, one of the largest employers in Lewiston, paid $249,370 in real estate taxes to Lewiston in 2018, spokesperson Karen Sullivan said. Property at St. Mary’s and its surrounding buildings have an assessed value of more than $40 million, according to city records.
Bates College, also a nonprofit, pays approximately $250,000 in property taxes to Lewiston each year, according to spokesperson Sean Findlen, who added the college also pays additional fees for municipal services. The college owns $140 million in Lewiston property, according to city records. It also has an untaxed $315 million endowment, according to filings required by the IRS.
Lewiston/Auburn Community Housing purchased six of the 12 properties from entities associated with long-time Lewiston landlords Joe Dunne and Debra Sullivan. (A seventh property was previously sold by a Sullivan-registered company in January to an owner who then sold the property to the nonprofit in July.)
Dunne and Sullivan’s operation has been sued by the city of Lewiston more than any other for failing to keep properties up to code.
The acquired properties give the city and its nonprofit partners control of the area needed to develop two housing sites proposed in the city’s transformation plan. The plan, which the Lewiston City Council unanimously endorsed in September, calls for a 66-mixed income unit development on Pine Street, located along the northwestern edge of Kennedy Park. It also calls for a 64-unit mixed income development around the intersection of Pine and Bartlett streets.
The city’s transformation plan is part of an effort to win $30 million in federal funds to revitalize housing in the downtown. Even if the city fails to win those funds, it will continue to work with local organizations and try to secure a private developer to move forward with the construction, although the scale of the project may have to be scaled back, city officials have said.
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