The Star-Herald

Addressing the city’s rental housing

Construction season is underway in Aroostook County and Presque Isle is no exception.  

The city has been building a new plan of action that will address rental housing in a holistic manner.  Since last summer a working group comprised of landlords, tenant rights advocates, municipal officials and housing experts came together each month to identify challenges facing rental housing in Central Aroostook County and develop a blueprint of policy solutions for the city to consider implementing over the next 10 years.

As we have learned from the pandemic, more people are moving away from concentrated urban city centers for better quality of life in rural communities with access to broadband infrastructure to telecommute to their place of employment.  Presque Isle and other towns of Aroostook stand to benefit from this potential influx of new residents, however the benefit and challenge facing Maine communities is our antiquated housing stock when compared to the rest of the country.  It is beneficial in the sense that the architectural styles are appealing to people who appreciate historical homes, however it is a challenge in that many of these properties need investment from years of inattention to the maintenance requirements of older homes.   

These unmaintained properties have gained the attention of the city as over $182,518 in taxpayer resources were used to demolish dangerous structures in the last 10 years.  While most of these funds are recovered or protected through the lien and sale of properties, the city decided a dynamic change in course was needed.  Presque Isle is not the only municipality facing this issue, and the group was joined by the City of Caribou in developing a plan of action for their respective communities that address rental housing stock in a holistic manner.

The working group identified the key topics facing Presque Isle are education, connection to housing programs, barriers to affordable housing, developing a revitalization strategy and implementing a rental registration program.  At each meeting, a topic would be under the microscope as members discussed, debated and supplied information regarding the challenge that lay ahead and how we can improve Presque Isle’s ability to address the issue in a proactive manner.  

Education focused the need for the city to collaborate with community stakeholders and organizations in developing educational curriculum for the public to learn how to be a better landlord and tenant.  

The housing programs highlighted the various state and local programs offered to help revitalize neighborhoods and think proactively how to leverage other revenue sources with local efforts.  

Barriers to affordable housing focused on efforts to address the challenges facing rural communities in workforce development in trades and code standards that make affordable housing challenging.  

Developing a revitalization strategy focused on a concrete plan for the City to rehabilitate tax-acquired properties and explore the potential of a city-wide/regional land bank.  

Lastly, the group also explored the need to obtain accurate housing data through a free rental registration program to help in the planning process of revitalization and emergency response for the city. 

Each of these focus areas are interconnected and provide the systemic change Presque Isle needs to revitalize our neighborhoods to remain safe and viable for future generations.   The proposed report is scheduled to be presented to the City Council on June 2, with implementation of the policy goals and projects anticipated to be completed over the next 10 years.  

Through this process, the working group is grateful for the many guest speakers including Maine’s Department of Economic & Community Development, Maine Housing, the State Fire Marshal’s Office, ACAP, the City of Caribou and Rep. Underwood for taking their own time to help guide in discussions and understanding the many complexities of housing development.  

Collectively, the working group, not including staff time, has volunteered over 186 hours valued at $5,308 to explore and develop this final report to the City Council.  The working group looks forward to assist the City with implementation efforts once the report is adopted.

If you would like to learn more about the plan or to be involved with the revitalization efforts, please contact the City’s DECD at 207-760-2727 or gweibley@presqueisleme.us .

Galen Weibley is Presque Isle’s director of economic and community development. He can be reached at 760-2727 or via email at gweibley@presqueisleme.us.

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