AUGUSTA — Speakers and others will discuss ways to improve housing and address a shortage of it in Augusta at a housing forum planned for Tuesday.

Amanda Bartlett, executive director of the Augusta Housing Authority, which is hosting the event with the city of Augusta, said the forum will focus on neighborhoods and look at current housing market conditions, safety, and how other housing authorities and communities have used grant funds to revitalize housing and neighborhoods.

During the last two years, Augusta has lost more than 100 units of rental housing to fire and to being shut down by the city because of code violations. And, Bartlett said, since the start of the recession, many buildings have fallen into disrepair and “hundreds of additional units are now at risk due to life safety code concerns and other capital needs.”

She said that has created an increased need to preserve and create more safe and affordable housing in the city.

Bartlett said speakers will discuss several aspects of housing, but she hopes landlords, tenants and others who attend will also speak up at the forum about the current state of housing in the area and what could be done to improve it.

“We’re hoping we’ll get a lot of the general public and people who rent in the community who can share their thoughts about renting in Augusta now,” she said. “You read in the paper about buildings with code issues, fires, buildings being shut down … that is creating a ton of anxiety for tenants affected by these issues, who can be displaced (because of them), often with little or no notice.”

The forum is 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday in council chambers at Augusta City Center.

Speakers are scheduled to include Augusta Fire Chief Roger Audette, who’ll speak on housing safety issues; Sprague and Curtis real estate agent Perry McCourtney, who’ll discuss housing market conditions and sales in the area; and Rick Whiting, executive director of the Auburn Housing Authority, who Bartlett said will discuss “the great things that can happen when cities partner with housing authorities.”

Last week, at an Augusta City Council meeting, Bartlett asked councilors if the city would partner with the Augusta Housing Authority to seek $500,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant funds to create a new program called “Great Neighborhoods.”

She said the program would assist landlords and low-to-moderate-income Augusta residents by providing grants of up to $25,000 to assist in rehabilitating and preserving existing multi-family rental properties. She said priority would be given to repairs correcting safety code violations.

She said many local landlords have said they are struggling financially, so making building improvements to an older building can be costly and challenging for them.

“It’s a difficult time, right now, to be a landlord,” she said. “They’re barely breaking even. And if we want affordable housing in our city, we have to help our landlords.”

The grant would require a 10 percent match.

City councilors reacted favorably to the idea of the city applying for the funds, because the grants are only available to municipalities on behalf of the quasi-municipal Augusta Housing Authority. The housing authority would administer the grant.

Councilors are expected to vote on the proposal at their Thursday business meeting.

“It sounds like a great program,” Ward 4 Councilor Anna Blodgett said.

Bartlett said a similar housing forum was held last year and drew a standing-room only crowd to city center. She said input from that forum guided her and others working to improve housing in Augusta, and she hopes this year’s forum, with a focus on neighborhoods and revitalizing existing housing, will also bring helpful input on how to improve housing in Augusta.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj


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