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Lewiston city council floats possible moratorium on transitional housing

Downtown Lewiston from Mount David.
Jay Collier
via Flickr
Downtown Lewiston from Mount David.

Councilors in Lewiston are considering a moratorium or other changes to the city's plan for transitional housing projects, in response to a proposal for a 118-apartment facility at the site of the Ramada Inn.

On Tuesday, the city council began discussing possible regulations under the city's rules for homeless shelters, though the plan would exempt recovery residences.

Councilor Robert McCarthy said many residents have raised concerns about the Ramada Inn project, and the proposed changes would give the council more of a voice.

"So I'm just looking for a voice and an understanding, that people have to come to us and explain what they're doing," McCarthy said.

Councilor Scott Harriman, along with a representative of the Lewiston Housing Committee, pushed back, saying that transitional housing facilities are significantly different than homeless shelters, and the proposal could have unintended consequences that could lead to less housing within the city.

"The ordinance currently requires a cap on the number of shelter beds; if transitional housing is included in the definition of a homeless shelter, the current number of transitional housing units would potentially far exceed that number," reads a memo from the Lewiston Housing Committee to the council. "We appreciate that the Council has repeatedly voiced their support for more housing. We are concerned that this provision alone would result in even less housing for people who are transitioning out of homelessness into safe, stable places to live."

Some councilors also floated the idea of a moratorium on new transitional housing projects as a back-up plan, if the amended rules don't make it through the council. But Mayor Carl Sheline said that a potential moratorium could introduce more uncertainty for developers - and sends the wrong message to residents.

"Our last moratorium was such an incredible drain on city staff and resources, and I really think this one would be just as misguided," Sheline said.

Lewiston Housing officials have said they hope to close on the Ramada Inn project by October, using a grant from MaineHousing.

The group defines the new project as "permanent affordable housing" for people at risk of becoming homeless, with a preference for local residents, homeless veterans and homeless seniors.

A MaineHousing spokesperson said that the agency is monitoring the situation and will assess the project's future once the plans move further along in the council process.