Non-profit group plans county's first homeless housing

6:44 PM, Mar 17, 2014   |    comments
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DAMARISCOTTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- People in Damariscotta are learning details of a plan to create the first homeless housing project in Lincoln County.

A group called Stepping Stones Housing is working on the project, which they say is transitional housing, and not a homeless shelter.

The group has purchased what's called the Blue Haven property in Damariscotta. They are tearing down the old house, and hope to replace it with a new building with six small apartments.

Bill Howlett of Stepping Stones says they plan to have individuals or families live in those apartments for up to two years. Residents would have to pay some rent, based on their income, and also get help with budgeting, education and other needs to get back on their feet.

Howlett says they know there's a need, even though there are no homeless statistics for Lincoln County.

At this point, the project is being privately financed. Howlett says a Stepping Stones board member provided the money to buy the property, and they are now planning to talk with banks and other organizations to finance construction.

They say operating costs will require fundraising, but say Stepping Stones may eventually seek funding through the Maine State Housing Authority.

The Blue Haven property also included four small cottages and trailers, which were used by the previous owner as affordable rental units for a number of years, and are still occupied.

Howlett says Stepping Stones hopes to eventually replace them with new, energy efficient units to serve more people. However, that could be one of several obstacles with the Town of Damariscotta.

Town Manager Matt Lutkus says the property appears to be grandfathered under town ordinances for a maximum of seven dwelling units, so six new apartments and the four other buildings would seem to exceed that limit.

Lutkus says some neighbors have already expressed concerns about traffic, and a proposal to relocate a local food pantry from a church into the new Stepping Stones building. The manager says the small streets in that neighborhood might not be the proper place for a food pantry.

The town planning board will give the Stepping Stones project a full review once an application is submitted. Bill Howlett says he and others in the group are still working on final details, but hope to gain approval and funding in time to begin building this year.

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