Lewiston, Maine’s aging housing stock and high demand for rental housing is cause for concern for those who know the health risks associated with poor property maintenance. The Property Health Report (PHR) is an online database that increases access to information about multifamily rental housing in downtown Lewiston, created by local non-profit Healthy Homeworks. Information includes active liens, notices of violation, lead inspection data, and other data regarding the environmental, legal, and financial health of each property. This compilation of objective, publicly available data makes it easy for non-expert renters and investors to make educated decisions about the properties they choose to rent or buy. Instead of contacting individual data holders, knowing what information to ask for, and being able to interpret these data, PHR users can view all property health information in one place. The creation of the PHR began in 2018 with Healthy Homeworks founder Amy Smith. Our work with Healthy Homeworks picked up where three Bates students left off in December of 2018. Our role was to attend meetings with data holders and Smith, further clarify the details of the property rating system, and collect data for 30 properties of various conditions to be put into the beta version of the PHR. We collected, cleaned, and analyzed property health data from properties in Lewiston’s Tree Street neighborhood and chose 30 properties representative of the dataset for Healthy Homeworks to input. Some of our key findings are the differences between data holders’ databases and file storage, which makes it challenging for Healthy Homeworks to get updated data in an easy to input format. Further, there are limitations due to workflow in that domain experts and data collectors do not provide data holders with thorough data, meaning datasets provided to Healthy Homeworks are incomplete or do not tell a comprehensive story about a property. Our work on the PHR will be continued by another Bates student through the Summer of 2019 and Healthy Homeworks has a goal to launch a public facing version of the PHR in January 2020. Some recommendations for next steps are to further clarify the rating system, establish methods and frequency of updates from remaining data holders, and to expand the PHR to include all of Lewiston, beyond the Tree Street neighborhood. Other future work includes logistical planning for integrating the PHR with Lewiston’s new Rental Registry. The launch of the PHR will increase the health and well-being of the Lewiston community for a safe and sustainable future.
Castaneda, Topher; Helms, Anna; and Sickinger, Claire, "The Property Health Report" (2019). Community Engaged Research Reports. 53.