Lewiston approves forgivable loan program for local landlords

Andrew Rice, Sun Journal, Lewiston, Maine
·2 min read

Mar. 17—LEWISTON — An emergency loan program for small businesses will get a second life, with some funding going toward a new forgivable loan program for local landlords.

The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday on the changes, which relax the standards for Lewiston's emergency loan program after only three businesses took advantage of the initial program last year.

City staff said last week that only $10,680 of the $150,000 loan program has been spent since it was announced in June 2020, and relaunching it with new parameters could potentially help a greater number of small businesses and landlords.

Part of the leftover money — $48,000 — will be set aside to fund the landlord loans, intended to help small-scale landlords with between two and eight units catch up on utility payments and other expenses during the pandemic.

Lewiston landlord Amy Smith told the council Tuesday that the program is "really needed," and asked officials to keep the loan requirements flexible.

"I hope a lot of people can use this and and hang on to these properties, and continue to do well by them," she said.

Officials have said that while rent relief programs have helped tenants and landlords, it can also leave landlords relying on tenants to apply or to meet eligibility requirements.

A city news release Wednesday said local landlords "have expressed concern about paying for water and heating costs without a rent cash flow. Lewiston, like many other communities, is also concerned about foreclosures and abandoned buildings due to lost revenue."

The loans, at up to $4,000, would come with requirements, including proving loss of revenue due to nonpayment of rent. Eligible uses for the funds include heating costs, utilities, trash collection, insurance and taxes.

In order for the loan to be forgiven, the landlord must be in the city's rental registration database, remain code compliant, and agree to accept tenants using General Assistance vouchers.

Heidi McCarthy, economic development specialist, said the city has already had two landlords reach out.

For the emergency small business loans, the second round requirements were expanded to include for-profit and nonprofit businesses, and caps on employees and gross sales were increased to encourage more applicants.

Officials have said that a short application window and other programs available during the first round may have limited interest, but the city memo said with the pandemic "continuing to impact business operations and with limited state and federal options, interest in such assistance has grown."

The second round increased the employee limit from 50 to 100, and the sales cap from $2 million to $6 million.

Applications for both programs became available at noon Wednesday, and can be accessed at www.lewistonmaine.gov/economicsupport.