May 26, 2018
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Can Bangor couple really afford their house?

Scott Haskell | BDN
Scott Haskell | BDN
Jennifer and Peter Brown live in this two-story home on Pearl Street in Bangor.
By Renee Ordway, Special to the BDN

After last Monday’s meeting of the Bangor City Council’s Finance Committee, Councilor Charles Longo wrote on his Facebook wall that he “could not be prouder to serve the people of Bangor.”

This came after Longo pulled off a procedural ploy — a legal one — but a ploy nonetheless that reversed an earlier committee vote that would have begun the repossession process for the home of Peter and Jennifer Brown at 110 Pearl St.

It’s important that this family get a second chance, Longo told reporters.

“We should try every option even if that means waiting one more month,” he said to a local TV reporter.

“We are the people,” he told me when explaining his desire to give one more chance to the couple, who are seriously delinquent on loans and property taxes owed the city.

What’s one more month? he asked.

Are you kidding me?

Let’s recap, shall we?

It was September 2010 when Jennifer Brown sat before the committee to explain why she was not making payments on a $70,000 low-interest loan agreement she and the city had entered into five years earlier.

Part of the loan had been made in 2005 through the city’s Department of Economic and Community Development, was funded through a federal Department of Housing and Urban Development grant and administered through the city.

Such loans are commonly made to low- and moderate-income residents for the purpose of improving the safety of their homes, fixing code violations and improving energy efficiency.

The other part of the loan included the couple’s mortgage, which the city had paid off when the original mortgage holder, Penquis CAP, started foreclosure proceedings because the couple were not making payments.

The city opted to take over the mortgage in an attempt not to lose the thousands of dollars it had lent the Browns as part of the home improvement economic and development grants, money that surely would have been lost if Penquis CAP foreclosed on the property.

Payments were sporadic from 2005 and 2007. In September 2010, the committee was informed by city staff that the Browns had not made a payment for three years. They also had failed to pay their property taxes and had made no sewer payments.

At that time, the Browns were into the city for about $110,000.

The couple failed to return phone calls from city staff and did not respond to certified letters.

At that September 2010 finance committee meeting, City Finance Director Debbie Cyr recommended that the committee vote to either begin foreclosure procedures or take possession of the home.

A month later, a 12-month agreement was approved that called for monthly payments of $800 with $200 applied to taxes and $600 going to mortgage loans and property insurance.

Because of “some payment issues,” that agreement later was extended until October 2012.

Now back to last Monday’s meeting.

City staff informed the committee that since the extension the Browns had made one payment and were now $4,150 in arrears.

The outstanding balance is now up to $133,074, while the assessed value of the home and lot is just $125,000.

In 2005, the Browns were unable to pay their mortgage, the home improvement loans they received through the city, their property taxes or insurance.

Now it’s nearly seven years later and nothing has really changed except for the amount the couple owes to the city. That just keeps going up.

This is just a long shot, because I am most certainly not a financial or budget expert — but I’m beginning to wonder whether this family can afford this house.

Council Chairman Cary Weston is not on the finance committee, but he was in years past and is very familiar with the Browns’ case.

When regular committee member Patricia Blanchette could not attend Monday’s meeting, committee Chairman Nelson Durgin asked Weston to sit in as a voting member of the committee.

It’s a common procedure.

The committee voted 3-2 to prepare a council order to take possession of the house and property.

After the vote, Weston left the meeting to attend another meeting with area legislators to discuss proposed cuts to the city’s General Assistance program, which potentially could cost the city $1 million to $2 million.

“I didn’t leave the meeting because I didn’t care about the other agenda issues. I left because I couldn’t be in two places at one time and I felt that discussing the General Assistance cuts with legislators took priority. This is a huge issue for this city,” Weston said.

Longo had been sitting in at the committee meeting as a nonvoting participant. When Weston left, Longo took his place as a voting member to hear the other items on the committee’s agenda.

He then pulled a legal but unprecedented move: He asked if he could bring the Browns’ matter up for reconsideration.

City Solicitor Norm Heitmann said that while such a move was unusual, it was allowed.

The revote came out 3-2 against taking possession of the house with Longo, Councilor Geoffrey Gratwick and Councilor Joseph Baldacci voting in the majority.

Hence the Browns get to keep their house for another month or perhaps longer if history serves as any indicator. And Longo got to call them up after the meeting and inform them of the good news.

He was very proud. His Facebook page said so.

At the end of our conversation on Friday, Longo asked me what I thought about the whole matter.

“I think it’s a lot easier to be the good guy than the bad guy,” I said.

Have feedback? Want to know more? Send us ideas for follow-up stories.

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