Lewiston, Maine Downtown Revitalization Partnerships
Lewiston is located on the Androscoggin River in Central Maine. The city was built in the mid-1800s for French-Canadian families migrating to area for work in factories. The downtown neighborhoods have enviable village density, perfect for raising a family. The gorgeous 19th Century buildings still have period details and homes are multi-family 3 to 4 story walk-ups with an average of 2,500 sq. ft.
As City of Lewiston, Maine's Grant Coordinator, I was responsible for designing programs to revitalize the downtown commercial corridor and adjacent low-income neighborhoods. 45% of the downtown population was living below the poverty line with an average income of less than $10,000 dollars a year. Lewiston was designated an Empowerment Zone under the Clinton Administration.
When I began working, Lewiston was plagued with a vacancy problem, 25% of the housing stock had been vacant for more than 20 years. In addition to the vacant commercial corridor, 1 million square feet of the former mills sat vacant as well.
As an urbanist I could see the tremendous value in Lewiston’s built environment. It was clear to me that people in the region no longer valued Lewiston's built environment and we needed to attract new people who would appreciate the idyllic setting.
After researching mill town revitalization models, I determined that Lowell and Lawrence, Massachusetts' immigrant strategy would be a good a model for Lewiston. The nearby City of Portland, Maine was experiencing a housing crisis and refugees from Somalia were living in Portland's housing shelters.
I contacted the City of Portland Family Shelter and we created a partnership between the two cities. As cities we had very different problems, Lewiston never had the population pressures experienced by Portland and as a result Lewiston’s housing stock was never split into smaller units.
In Lewiston, the homes were originally built for large French-Canadian families and would perfectly complement the needs of the large Somali refugee’s families. With an average of 5-10 children per Somali family the housing stock was the right size. After a series of meetings between the City of Portland and Lewiston Social Service agencies and Somali Elders, a relocation plan was agreed upon and the first 40 families (151 individuals) relocated to permanent housing in Lewiston.
During my time in Lewiston, I designed a series of programs to restore the building stock and provide employment opportunities to people with employment barriers. The programs raised nearly $3 million in government funds, including the Portland Lewiston Second Migrant Program, which moved an additional 70 families (314 individuals) to Lewiston.
Vacancy was a wide spread problem throughout Northern New England in the late 90s. Each town would often compete for federal funding. I created partnerships with other municipalities so we could collaborate and be successful. The programs and partnerships I created during my time in Lewiston were transformative to the region.
Lasting Impact of the Second Migrant Program