The Wedgewood House at 101 Pine St., shown Friday in Lewiston, will be renovated as part of the 82-unit first phase of the Choice Neighborhoods redevelopment. Affordable rents are in high demand in a very competitive housing market.  Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — Periodic rent increases and evictions due to a change in building ownership have always been commonplace in the rental market. But, according to Cara Courchesne, chairwoman of Lewiston’s Housing Committee, the difference now is a vacancy rate in Lewiston-Auburn that’s essentially zero.

When that occurs, it’s much harder for people to find another place to live, potentially displacing them from the area entirely.

Over the past few weeks, the Sun Journal has been contacted by residents who are facing those situations. Changes in building ownership have some tenants facing eviction. In Auburn, a resident said a large property management company has informed tenants their rent will increase 33% in August.

Aaron Sasseville, director of operations for Sasseville Properties, which operates the Kittyhawk and Highlands apartments, declined to comment on individual rate increases, but said his company is “bringing the rates up to market.”

Courchesne said she’s been hearing similar stories as the Lewiston-Auburn area, like much of the state, continues to deal with high housing costs caused by low inventory and high demand. When she presented the Housing Committee’s 2023 “housing scorecard” to the Lewiston City Council last week, the vacancy rate for rentals stood at 1%, a decrease from the year prior. For homes, it’s zero.

According to the committee, the desired number is between 5% and 8%, making it easier for people to move between housing options.


The problem isn’t new. More people are looking for roughly the same amount of housing units. Landlords are seeing higher costs and also higher market rates due to the demand. With a vacancy rate of zero, there’s bound to be someone out there who will pay for it.

Last week, officials and housing advocates said the most immediate fix is more housing, and housing of any kind and price range. Asked if Lewiston-Auburn should consider rent control policies as Portland and other cities have, the resounding answer was no – or at least not now.


Jeffrey Padham, a Lewiston landlord who serves on the Housing Committee, said the answer is simply more housing. He said rents are steadily rising because of more demand, including from out of state, combined with higher taxes and fuel and labor costs.

Asked about potential rent stabilization policies, such as those in effect in Portland and several other cities, Padham said Lewiston isn’t there yet.

“I, like most, think rent control is the worst thing we could do,” Padham said. “It causes current landlords to increase rents and scares off too many potential developers. Portland may be able to afford to turn investors away, but Lewiston cannot.”


For two years, Portland has been operating under a rent control ordinance, which puts a 5% cap on increases to rents where a tenant leaves a unit voluntarily. The rules allow landlords to raise rents each year based on inflation. In June, Portland voters soundly rejected a referendum that would have eliminated the rent control cap.

Other municipalities such as South Portland have considered rent stabilization policies, but neither Lewiston or Auburn have. Courchesne said the committee may discuss it in the future.

Craig Saddlemire, a housing advocate who is developing new affordable housing in Lewiston with the group Raise-Op, said “good rent stabilization policies are needed in every community, primarily as a means to reduce displacement of tenants.” But he said he supports some kind of statewide law rather than each municipality going it alone.

“Rent stabilization helps to mitigate price gouging against renters who can afford their homes today, and still allows rent to rise reasonably with the cost of inflation each year,” he said. But, he added, “With or without rent stabilization, we still need to build many more affordable homes across the state.”

He said a state law would be more beneficial because if communities are passing different rent stabilization policies, “developers will be picking communities with the fewest rent restrictions and making communities compete against one another.” He said Portland may be an outlier.

Lewiston City Councilor Scott Harriman, who operates an owner-occupied three-unit building, said he generally agrees that some kind of rent stabilization is a good idea, especially in the current market. But he said Lewiston isn’t ready, and the city’s priority now should be encouraging new housing.


That’s why the council recently signaled its support for a proposal from Auburn Mayor Jason Levesque to build a multi-phase housing development on Lowell and Middle streets, where rents will start at $1,340 a month.

But other projects in the pipeline will provide at least some housing for residents at 50% and 60% of the area median income, like the new Choice Neighborhoods developments in the Tree Streets and the Picker House apartments at the former Continental Mill.

On Monday, the Lewiston Planning Board will hold a public hearing on a development review for the second phase of a Choice Neighborhoods development known as “DeWitt,” which will be 104 units and 14,000 square feet of commercial space at 40-60 Pine St.

The city is holding a groundbreaking on July 24 for the first phase of Choice Neighborhoods, known as the Wedgewood development, which will feature 82 units in nine buildings.

Land is cleared in March to make way for a planned second phase of construction at the Stable Ridge Apartments development off Court Street in Auburn. The second phase would add 60, two-bedroom units. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

In Auburn, Sasseville is constructing new units at its Kittyhawk location, and the developer behind the Stable Ridge apartments is planning a second phase with 60 units.



As officials continue to wrangle with how to encourage more housing options and development, the cost of rent is steadily rising.

Because things seem to be getting anecdotally worse for renters, one surprise for the Housing Committee this year was an increase in the “rental affordability” category caused by an increase in the median household income between 2021 and 2022. However, finding accurate and up-to-date information on rental affordability is tricky.

A summary of the committee’s report said that while rental housing became “slightly more affordable over the past year due to renter wages increasing faster than rent, which is rare,” overall “the cost of rental housing greatly exceeds affordability margin for the average renter household.”

According to MaineHousing spokesman Scott Thistle, data used by MaineHousing to create a rental affordability index became unreliable. He said the data depended on a survey of landlords, which saw participation drop so low “we decided the data was not statistically valid,” so it was not gathered after 2021. He said MaineHousing is attempting to create the index going forward with a different methodology.

But, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, which releases an annual “Out of Reach” report, 2023 is on par with the past two years. This year’s report says the wage needed to afford a two-bedroom apartment at fair market rent in Androscoggin County is $20.38 an hour.

The organization bases its numbers on spending no more than 30% of income on housing. Based on that number, a fair-market rent for a two-bedroom in Androscoggin County in 2023 is $1,060, according to the group. Last year, it was $999. However, the current market rate for a two-bedroom apartment in Lewiston-Auburn hovers around $1,800.


The report says a renter needs an annual income of $33,360 to afford a 1-bedroom at fair market rent. To pay the current market rate, the required income would be much more.

According to the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, the supply of low-cost rentals fell by 3.9 million units over the past decade nationally. In Maine, the number of units with rents between $600 and $999 has decreased dramatically. During that same time, rental units costing between $1,400 and $1,999 have gone from an estimated 4,594 in 2011 to 21,149 in 2022.

Lewiston Mayor Carl Sheline believes the “only way out” of the current situation is to build more housing.

“We need to increase supply substantially in Lewiston,” he said. “And while housing for all income levels is needed, we certainly have a demand for more affordable housing. The rising cost of rents is concerning for our Lewiston families and seniors. It’s not lost on me that it’s especially frustrating to be priced out of a current apartment and then face a seemingly hopeless search for something affordable. It’s disheartening.”

Asked about rent stabilization, Sheline said he’s not in favor of a rent control ordinance for Lewiston.

“I’m concerned rent control would have a chilling effect on housing developments in our city,” he said. “Such an ordinance would encourage developers to search elsewhere for a site, which is the opposite of what’s needed right now.”


In Auburn, Mayor Jason Levesque said a rent stabilization policy has never come up in discussions. He also believes “it doesn’t work.” He believes Auburn, as well as other cities such as Biddeford and Westbrook, have seen more development due to Portland’s rent-control laws.

He said for Auburn, it’s simply supply and demand, as well as addressing past policies that have led to the current housing shortage.

“You can’t even look at rent control until you’ve opened up the ability for people to build, and that’s the biggest thing – supply and demand,” he said.

Asked about higher rental costs, he said other factors such as keeping property taxes flat can help local rental markets, where costs are passed down to renters.

The 2023 “housing scorecard” in Lewiston showed that there has been very little change to the total number of housing units in Lewiston, which officials are hoping to change with the projects in the pipeline. The report also said the rate of homeless youth in Lewiston schools more than doubled, and eviction rates are also increasing.

There were some good takeaways as well, including a much lower rate of lead poisoning, and the rate of underutilized units decreasing over the past year. The rate of housing vouchers expiring also decreased, meaning more voucher holders are being matched with available housing units. However, the waiting list for public housing is still over 1,000 applicants and growing.

Courchesne said the committee created the scorecard as a way for the committee to compare year-over-year metrics, but also as a way to prioritize its work in making recommendations to the council. She said a lot in the report came as no surprise to the committee.

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