Dispute Over Lewiston Housing Project Now Involves City Seal
Two Lewiston city councilors, along with victims of last year's fire on Pierce Street and their supporters, are calling on the Lewiston-Auburn Landlord Association to apologize for misusing the city's seal and for misleading the public in its municipal campaign to repeal a low-income housing project. Voters on Tuesday are being asked to reject the 29-unit project, which had previously been approved by the City Council.
The campaign took an unexpected turn Friday when the city of Lewiston released a statement saying the city seal was used in a pair of newspaper campaign advertisements without authorization of the city, a violation of state statute and a Class E crime.
"This unauthorized use of the emblem may leave voters with the erroneous impression that the City supports a yes vote," the statement said. The City Council originally approved the agreement with Lewiston developer Phyllis St. Laurent by a 4-3 vote. But the city has not taken a formal position on the citizen-initiated referendum question that appears on the municipal ballot. Jim Lysen, a resident of Lewiston, says the Association has attempted to dupe voters who deserve better.
"Phyllis St. Laurent deserves better than that. Lewiston tenants who live in substandard housing deserve better than that," Lysen said. "Please reject this referendum and vote No on One!"
Doris Pelletier, who helped spearhead the Yes on One campaign along with her husband, Stan, says she created the ads and inadvertently designed something that resembled the official city seal, which was then apparently published by the papers as the actual emblem. Pelletier says she has since apologized for creating confusion.
"What I drew didn't look like the city seal to me. So, I don't know what they thought," she says. "There was no malice on my part in doing that. I can tell you that. I don't think there was malice on the part of anybody. It was just a big mistake."
The landlord association's ads also state that the building project will drive up local taxes and attract more "out of town welfare seekers." But city councilors say that's untrue. They say the St. Laurent project will not result in any increase in the city budget or property taxes. Instead, it is expected to generate nearly $40,000 in revenue.
Ashley Medina, one of more than two dozen who lost their homes in the Pierce Street fire 17 months ago, says she's anxious for the St. Laurent housing project to be built.
"We are hoping that this gets rebuilt," she said, "because if we don't get it rebuilt we will lose our housing for single mothers like myself who are going to school and working, trying to get on their feet."
Medina and a dozen other displaced fire victims have housing vouchers that cover 70 percent of the cost of their housing. But the vouchers only apply to certain housing units, and Medina says if the new project isn't built she and others will be at risk of losing the help. Medina says, in her case, it will likely mean she can no longer afford to go to school.
Doris Pelletier says she's concerned that the city already has a high number of vacant apartment units and that this project will drive that number up more. "If there was a need for it I'd be - I'd say build it, but there is no need," she said.
City councilors say the latest housing market survey shows just the opposite - that the vacancy rate is extremely low, between 0 and 3 percent, due, in part, to recent fires, demolition of condemned buildings and a lack of new construction.