Amy Smith, founder of Healthy Homeworks, puts up a condominium for sale sign Monday at 51 Howard St. in downtown Lewiston. There will be an open house Wednesday for the third-floor condominium. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — An organization looking to boost the rates of homeownership in the renter-heavy Tree Streets neighborhood has reached a milestone: the first of four condominium units is on the market.

While one — or even four — new condo units may not sound like much, Lewiston landlord and Healthy Homeworks founder Amy Smith said it’s significant because the current market has essentially wiped out homes at this price point. The “starter home” of the ’70s and ’80s doesn’t really exist anymore.

The first two-bedroom unit now for sale for $150,000 is part of a model spearheaded by Healthy Homeworks to create low-risk starter homes by renovating and converting downtown rental stock into affordable condominiums, with the goal of creating more options for people seeking to buy their first home.

“We’re pretty excited to see what happens because we’re basically creating a whole new starter home inventory,” Smith said.

Healthy Homeworks will host a community open house Wednesday to show off the unit and get the word out on its larger goals, which include fundraising to build more units. The organization will host an open house at 51 Howard St. from 3-4 p.m. Wednesday, and a larger event from 4-6 p.m. at L/A Arts on Lisbon Street.

Smith first announced the plan to renovate the Howard Street property in 2021 when Healthy Homeworks began a program called Renter 2 Owner, which helps educate potential homeowners on navigating the tricky and expensive market.


Nearly 20 people have so far taken the Renter 2 Owner course, with some owning homes or readying offers. Maine Housing took notice of the program and now graduates are eligible for the state’s down payment assistance program.

Smith wanted the new units to coincide with the program, and considers the Howard Street property, and the first unit especially, a pilot to test the waters. The building rehabilitation took longer than expected, and she said the organization didn’t know how much to list the unit at given the lack of similar housing types in Lewiston for comparison. There’s plenty in Portland, she said, like on Munjoy Hill, but the price point is much different.

Amy Smith, founder of Healthy Homeworks is Lewiston, is trying to make home ownership attainable for residents making between $50,000 and $80,000. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

According to city data, the rate of home ownership in the Tree Streets neighborhood is 4%. The goal of the program is to create inventory attainable for residents making between $50,000 and $80,000.

“People in that category have either given up or they’re looking at trailers,” Smith said. “We’re trying to make a starter home market in the downtown.”

The building cost about $200,000 per unit to renovate, but since the asking price is $150,000, the nonprofit has sought philanthropic or investor help to cover the difference until the model can be proven. Smith said there are grant programs to cover the same funding gap scenario for rental properties, but none for condominiums.

She believes they have found a way to make the model sustainable. She said beyond education and creating an inventory, they’re hoping to “effect change at the systems level.”

“In downtown Lewiston to start with, but we’re talking to people in the local, state and federal levels to say, ‘What gives? There’s all this money available for rental units but no money for creating homeownership opportunities,'” she said.

Healthy Homeworks argues that homeownership solves multiple issues in the downtown, including absentee landlords, unsafe housing conditions, and more housing options. The current market also often incentivizes first-time owners to buy multiunit buildings due to the financial piece, but people are often unaware of the difficulties of properly caring for a building.

Smith said in 2024, the group is hoping to bring six to nine more units online.

Amy Smith, founder of Healthy Homeworks, walks Monday through the third-floor condominium at 51 Howard St. in downtown Lewiston. It is for sale for $150,000. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

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