PI declines to renew lease for city-owned transitional housing apartment units

3 years ago

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — There are many unanswered questions regarding the city of Presque Isle’s decision not to renew Homeless Services of Aroostook’s lease for transitional housing, according to general manager Lisa McLaughlin.

McLaughlin was hired to her current position in March 2021. Not long after starting her position, she had a meeting with City Manager Martin Puckett and Recreation and Parks Director Gene Cronin. At that time, they informed her that the city’s lease with Homeless Services for four transition housing units, each with two apartments, had expired in 2019.

She also found out, for reasons still not entirely known, that the city had no intentions of renewing the 10-year lease, which also included two five-year extensions.

Since then, McLaughlin has sent notices to all tenants, informing them of the city’s plans to conduct walk-through inspections of the apartments and to vacate all units by Oct. 1, if not sooner.

“A lot of people were not aware that the city owned those units,” McLaughlin said.

Located along Midway Drive, the units that Homeless Services leases are adjacent to others owned by the Aroostook Band of Micmacs Housing Program. 

McLaughlin referred questions regarding the city’s plans for the units to Puckett, who was unable to be reached for comment as of Tuesday morning.

In the meantime, McLaughlin and her staff have reached out to the Presque Isle Housing Authority in an effort to place all tenants in new homes before the Oct. 1 deadline. McLaughlin said she has also asked the city for a possible extension of the deadline into spring 2022 but has not received a response.

The loss of transitional housing will be devastating, McLaughlin said, for those who rely on that form of housing to move forward financially after experiencing homelessness and other hardships.

“It helps them work and build credit so that they can transition into a regular rental unit or home,” McLaughlin said.

But the limited options for affordable housing in the Presque Isle region is something McLaughlin expects to be a challenge for the soon-to-be displaced tenants. In addition, the 40-bed Sister Mary O’Donnell Homeless Shelter, which Homeless Services operates, is currently full and still must adhere to pandemic-related restrictions on beds and people. The shelter is the only homeless shelter operating in Aroostook County.

“Most people stay [in transitional housing] for two years or so and move on, but it’s hard when you don’t have a place to move on to,” McLaughlin said. “The lack of affordable housing is what causes people to become homeless in the first place.”

Puckett was not immediately available for comment.