June 23, 2018
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Plan for tackling Bangor’s abandoned, blighted properties to be unveiled Tuesday

By Nick McCrea, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — Bangor’s code enforcement officer will roll out his idea for how the city should address abandoned and dangerous buildings, and how to prevent them from becoming bigger problems, during a meeting Tuesday.

Bangor’s Business and Economic Development Committee will receive a progress update on the city’s efforts to grapple with crumbling, overgrown properties and how it plans to ease the process of dealing with them in the future. Code Enforcement Officer Jeremy Martin believes a registry for abandoned and vacant buildings will go a long way toward addressing the problem.

The program would require property owners to register their vacant buildings with the city and hire a Maine-based property management company or individual to keep up appearances and ensure the building stays up to code while it’s vacant. Both the owner and property manager would need to provide 24-hour-a-day contact information to the city and conduct weekly inspections to check for signs of trespass or other problems. If a bank or company, rather than an individual, owns the property, it will be required to follow the same rules.

There’s no solid number on how many abandoned or blighted buildings Bangor has, but the problem doesn’t approach the level that seen in other cities. But Bangor has seen a “significant increase” in its crop of vacant buildings during the past decade as a result of the mortgage crisis and increased bank foreclosures, according to Martin.

Martin said the city faces several challenges in dealing with the buildings. Homes can be stuck in the foreclosure process for months or years, and tend to sit vacant and decay during that time. The city has little power when a building is bogged down in that process. In other instances, if an owner abandons a home or apartment building, tenants might continue to live in the building. A significant part of the problem is that when a problem arises with an abandoned property, the city sometimes struggles to find the owner of the building to let them know about the problems, according to Martin.

“It is hoped that these small steps will free up Code Enforcement Division staff from spending limited resources on tracking down responsible parties,” Martin wrote in a memo to the committee.

More than 1,000 municipalities nationwide have similar ordinances, according to the Chicago Tribune, but they appear to be relatively rare — if there are any at all — in Maine. Bridgton in Cumberland County has a code that requires certain maintenance standards for vacant properties and registration of any rental building. Safeguard Properties, a company that keeps a list of U.S. municipalities with vacant property registration ordinances, doesn’t list any in Maine.

Chicago’s abandoned property ordinance hit a stumbling block recently when a federal judge sided with Federal Housing Finance Agency, which argued that the ordinance placed unfair maintenance requirements on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which hold mortgages for many vacant structures in the Windy City and have maintenance standards of their own. The housing agency, which oversees Fannie and Freddie, challenged Chicago’s ordinance shortly after it took effect in November 2011, arguing that Chicago shouldn’t be establishing rules for federal agencies.

The agency also took issue with the $500 registration fee Chicago established, arguing it was effectively a tax.

Also during Tuesday night’s meeting, Bangor’s Housing Rehabilitation Coordinator Jeff Wallace will update the committee on the progress of the city’s Neighborhood Stabilization Program. That program ended on June 30.

The program was funded by the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008, and was established to stabilize communities across the nation that suffered from foreclosures and abandonment in the wake of that year’s financial collapse. Bangor was awarded nearly $1.1 million to acquire, redevelop and sell foreclosed and abandoned homes in hopes of preventing blight in neighborhoods.

During the life of the neighborhood stabilization effort, Bangor acquired 11 properties. One was sold to Penquis Housing for rehabilitation; two were demolished; and seven were fully rehabilitated, six of which were sold, Wallace said in a memo to the committee. One property, 63 Sixth St., was sold on the open market after the city decided to “cut its losses” when an agreement with a future user fell through. The city paid back what it had invested in the property and sold it as it was. Just one of those 11 properties, 61 Pine St., is still on the market, according to Wallace.

City money could be allocated on an annual basis to continue local neighborhood stabilization efforts, Wallace wrote.

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