By Robert E. Macdonald
Mayor of Lewiston
“We must continue to clean up blighted buildings and neighborhoods, but we must also work with our landlords and partners to create decent housing for those who work hard but have limited incomes.”
That quote is from this year’s mayoral inauguration address. These were not words designed for a sound bite. They are words from the heart. We must transform our downtown neighborhoods into neighborhoods of choice.
When I arrived in Lewiston 37 years ago, the mills were still Lewiston’s major employers. Many of our downtown residents worked on one of the mills’ three shifts. At shift’s end, they returned to their homes located in multi-dwelling apartment buildings. These neighborhoods were well kept, and apartments were neat and clean. These were neighborhoods filled with proud people of character.
It’s time to revive our downtown neighborhoods. We are not Detroit. Yes, we have demolished many buildings. Yes, there are more to be taken down. There are areas of blight, but much of the housing stock located in our downtown has been neatly kept up by the owners.
Creating a strong landlord association would be a major step in stabilizing the area. An association made up of local landlords who live here, have strong ties and are proud to be part of this community. To cleanse the area of the small minority living there that have no respect in themselves and much less respect for other people’s property, a strict set of rules must be put in place.
Landlords must scrupulously screen prospective tenants through criminal, credit and reference checks. Leases must set forth rules designed to insure the property is continually well maintained by both the landlord and the tenant. Lastly, an eviction procedure for cause of unsuitable tenants must be implemented.
Lewiston city government and staff must work with local landlords to provide them with information about current programs designed to help landlords upgrade their properties. If they are found to be qualified for these programs, our city staff should be available to help them navigate the sometimes perplexing paperwork.
The city should also be aggressive in finding ways to set up partnerships between local banks, landlords and developers to create mixed housing in our downtown neighborhoods.
One of the city’s staff members has floated a plan which, if implemented, could effectively put the aforementioned groups in partnership. This partnership would have the potential of creating a vibrant and safe neighborhood—a neighborhood where subsidized, low-income and market-rate housing could coexist.
Many of you at this point are probably wondering if I have gone over to the liberal, progressive side. I assure you I have not. I sincerely believe that a mixed-income neighborhood is our best chance to shed the reputation that hangs over Lewiston because of some of these neighborhoods.
We will be able to reintroduce responsibility to those living there. Properties will be kept up. Crime will be reduced. But most importantly, the children of our poor will be exposed to the fruits of hard work. Attitudes of despair and no hope will disappear as these children are continually exposed to the principles on which our country was founded, “upward mobility.”
New housing, new neighborhoods and new attitudes equal a new and vibrant Lewiston.