This house at 181 Water St. in the South End of Waterville was purchased in September 2018 through the Waterville Community Land Trust. Morning Sentinel file

WATERVILLE — A nonprofit group that helps families own homes will be able to apply for grants from The United States Conference of Mayors now that the City Council has approved a request for Waterville to become a member of the national organization.

The Waterville Community Land Trust initiated the request, noting that the city’s membership in the conference is necessary for a nonprofit to apply for conference competitions and grants.

The council voted 6-0 on Tuesday to spend $2,000 for the city’s membership in the Conference of Mayors so the land trust can apply for grants to promote housing availability and affordability and increase sustainable home ownership.

Nancy Williams, vice president of the land trust’s board of directors, told councilors one such competition, called “Community Wins,” requires cities to show its commitment to revitalizing struggling neighborhoods and provide opportunities for residents in those neighborhoods to have good homes.

The land trust, Williams said, is partnering with the South End Neighborhood Association and other nonprofit groups wanting to join them in the effort.

If they win one of two possible competition awards, they would get $50,000 to $75,000 to further their work and the city would receive publicity as being a city that invests in its neighborhoods, according to Williams. If the land trust wins the award, Waterville’s mayor would go to Washington to receive it, she said.

Williams brought the idea of establishing a community land trust to Waterville several years ago. She and others established the land trust in 2014, and started working in the South End.

The group seeks to help stabilize neighborhoods by acquiring homes, restoring or rehabilitating them and then offering them for sale to eligible people with low to moderate incomes. The land trust has done so with two homes so far. The land trust accepts donated homes, renovates them as needed and sells them to people who are eligible.

Run by an all-volunteer board of directors, the land trust is able to maintain home affordability by retaining the land on which the homes are located. Homeowners may sell the homes later if they wish, but the land trust maintains ownership of the land and a substantial share of any profit on the sale.

While the land trust plans to eventually work citywide, officials decided to focus first on the South End, once a hub of activity and home to many Franco Americans who moved to the city from Canada at the turn of the 20th century to work at area mills. The South End Neighborhood Association has been working for 20 years to help revitalize the neighborhood.

One of the projects the Land Trust is working on now is the “Milliken Project,” named for the family of Daniel Libby Milliken, who developed the neighborhood in the area of Moor and Carrean streets in the city’s South End, Williams said. The Milliken family sold land and land with homes to French Canadians who arrived in the South End and worked at local mills.

As part of the project, the land trust plans to complete the renovation of a home it owns at 3 Moor St., and sell it to a family. Members also hope to buy or help renovate more homes on Moor and Carrean streets, according to Williams.

The land trust is seeking to provide improvements to help families and reduce carbon footprints; work with the South End Neighborhood Association on an agricultural-based project that may bring income to local teens; and help invest, with the South End Neighborhood Association’s Quality of Life Committee, in two city parks.

Williams said the land trust’s plans were developed while keeping in mind the city’s comprehensive plan and the strategic plan for the South End. As part of plans, residents will be asked what they want and need for their neighborhood.

She said applying for conference grants requires the city to show it promotes revitalization of neighborhoods, and Waterville already has done so by helping with a one-day pickup of heavy items, having a special agreement that permits certain funds to be used for the betterment of the South End, providing land to Habitat for Humanity to build a home and providing a parcel of land that now is part of the land trust’s Park on the Kennebec. That park on Water Street has a bench dedicated to longtime South End resident and volunteer Charlie Poulin, whose family has lived in that area for many generations, according to Williams.

“I hope that we’ll be partners,” she told councilors and city officials Tuesday.

Mayor Nick Isgro said Waterville’s becoming a member of the U.S. Conference of Mayors would provide a great opportunity for the land trust to apply for other grants in the future, even if it is not awarded the one it is seeking now.

Anna Holdener, chair of the South End Neighborhood Association, agreed.

“It really will open up a lot of opportunities for Waterville as a whole,” she said.

Isgro and City Councilor Rick Foss, R-Ward 5, praised the land trust’s method of working on one neighborhood at a time, and then moving to another.

“That’s a great approach,” Foss said. “I love it. I like the sound of it.”

Along with Williams and Holdener, South End Neighborhood Association member Paula Raymond, chair of the association’s quality of life committee, and Paula Saul, president of the land trust’s board of directors, attended Tuesday night’s meeting.


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