LEWISTON — A plan that’s been years in the making to reshape housing in the city was given the green light Thursday.
After a multi-year process to plan and submit its application, and later becoming a finalist, Lewiston will receive a $30 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to overhaul public housing and inject additional private investment into the Tree Streets neighborhood.
The announcement Thursday came first from Maine U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, who earlier this year sent a letter to HUD in support of Lewiston’s application. Maine U.S. Sen. Angus King and Congressman Jared Golden, who also sent letters of support, later released a joint statement.
Lewiston will be the first city of its size to receive both the Choice Neighborhoods planning and implementation grants, making the announcement seem surreal to those who have worked on the grant application.
Misty Parker, Lewiston economic development manager who has worked closely on the grant, said staff was “still processing this very exciting news” on Thursday.
“In a small city like ours, each dollar goes further in improving the lives of people who live and work in our community, and this grant is going to result in over $100 million in private investment in our city, so it’s a significant achievement for us that we’re just thrilled about.”
The city’s application, known as the “transformation plan,” details a comprehensive effort to redevelop a significant swath of public housing in the downtown neighborhood. The proposal includes a 66-unit, mixed-use development on Pine Street, along Kennedy Park, and a 64-unit, family-oriented redevelopment along Pine and Bartlett streets.
A third site will redevelop housing on Ash Street, but the plan also calls for expanded programs related to education, workforce development, health care and other “resources to help families break cycles of poverty.” In all, the project will redevelop and construct 185 mixed-income units on three sites that will be controlled by the Lewiston Housing Authority.
The Tree Streets neighborhood includes two of Maine’s poorest census tracts, along with the state’s highest concentration of childhood lead poisoning.
“The funding will be transformative for our community,” said Mayor Mark Cayer. “I’m hoping it will stabilize our housing market both in the public and private sector, reduce childhood lead poisoning and improve our overall community wellbeing.”
Parker said Lewiston’s success in getting the grant “is a testament to the work the community has done to develop such a comprehensive transformation plan.”
The plan was drafted after a lengthy community-led effort, with several neighborhood residents involved in the Heathy Neighborhoods Planning Council working to engage their neighbors.
A group of neighborhood residents were celebrating the news Thursday at an impromptu gathering at the “pop-up garden” park on Bartlett Street.
Parker said the community worked hard “to submit a competitive proposal that would instill confidence with HUD of our ability to do transformative redevelopment work.”
The city’s joint application with the Lewiston Housing Authority was a finalist among applications from the cities of Detroit, Michigan, Cleveland, Ohio, Camden, New Jersey, and Fort Myers, Florida.
Collins said Thursday she spoke directly with HUD leaders about “the monumental impact the project will have on the health, safety, and overall wellbeing of Mainers.”
In 2019, she hosted then-HUD Secretary Ben Carson in Lewiston, where they spoke with stakeholders about how the Choice Neighborhoods Grant program could revitalize the neighborhood.
“This $30 million project will transform a neighborhood with the highest concentration of childhood lead poisoning and families in poverty and Maine’s lowest performing schools into a lead-free, economically diverse, and welcoming community,” she said.
The statement from King and Golden said, “With this substantial investment from the federal government, we can turn that plan into a reality that will remove dangerous lead hazards from housing, address crime, and improve health, broadband access, and educational opportunities for everyone living in Lewiston.”
This story will be updated.