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The Bangor neighborhoods where people can’t afford their rent

BANGOR, MAINE — Renters in a section of Bangor’s Whitney Park neighborhood have the hardest time affording their rent, according to neighborhood-level census estimates and recently released eviction data. This area near the corner of Boynton and Ohio Streets is part of that eastern section of Whitney Park. Gabor Degre | BDN
By Darren Fishell, BDN Staff
Sept. 10, 2018 10:49 am

In the neighborhood that abuts Stephen King’s haunting gates lurks a problem that has spooked city officials: More renters there are struggling to afford their places than anywhere else in the city.

In the eastern section of Whitney Park, census estimates show more than half of renters pay at least one-third of their monthly income toward rent, a level that state and federal housing agencies consider unaffordable.

The census block group that defines an eastern part of Whitney Park.

Renters there have also faced some of the highest rates of eviction in Bangor over the past decade, according to data from The Eviction Lab at Princeton University.

As city officials seek to address a dearth of affordable housing, a Bangor Daily News analysis shows neighborhood-level estimates of where Bangor renters face the greatest burden in paying the rent.

It’s not just that sliver of Whitney Park, extending along Hammond Street from West Broadway to just past the Leadbetter Mini Stop. The state agency MaineHousing last year rated all of Bangor as less affordable for renters than Portland. That’s a turnaround from a trend of increases in rental affordability in Bangor, from 2014 to 2016.

The state agency estimates that the typical two-bedroom apartment, with utilities, costs about $7,000 more than the typical renter can afford. In other words, that household would need a roughly 30 percent raise.

In another sign of Whitney Park’s affordability challenge, residents there were among the most likely in Maine to be evicted in the decade after the Great Recession, based on data from researchers at The Eviction Lab at Princeton University.

About seven in 100 renters have been evicted there each year, from 2007 to 2016. That’s more than double the rate citywide.

In 2016, evictions in West Bangor have spiked to the highest rate in the city. In the area that stretches from the airport along the I-395 corridor to the Penobscot River, about 11 in 100 renters were evicted in 2016, surpassing Whitney Park’s rate of 7.5 that year.

While renters in Whitney Park put the largest share of their paychecks toward housing, census figures show Capehart, the Tree Streets neighborhood and West Side Village have larger total numbers of households paying unaffordable rents.

The most rent-burdened neighborhoods are not the city’s most expensive. In Whitney Park, for instance, census estimates put the median rent and utilities, from 2012 to 2016, at about $700 a month. That’s among the cheapest areas for Bangor.

Citywide, MaineHousing estimates rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Bangor has actually dropped since 2014, to a median of $791 last year. But the estimate of median income for renters also dropped last year.

Estimates produced for MaineHousing show the median income of renter households in Bangor dropped 10 percent from 2014 to 2017. That’s not the case for the state as a whole. During the same period, the median renter wage for Maine was flat.

“Generally speaking, the overall cost of housing is rising faster than the rises in income,” said Richard Taylor, the research manager for MaineHousing.

What’s happening to wages?

Bangor’s economy has struggled to recover from the Great Recession that began at the end of 2007.

The state’s second largest local job market, Bangor has still not recovered the private-sector jobs lost in the wake of that downturn.

Lewiston and Augusta, the third and fifth largest local job markets respectively, have faced similar struggles. It took a full decade for Augusta to return to 2007 job levels; Lewiston is further than Bangor from a full jobs recovery.

The average wage across all full- and part-time jobs in Bangor lags those cities, and so does the rate at which wages have risen. The average wage in Bangor has risen at one of the slowest rates of Maine’s 30 largest local job markets, behind Augusta, Waterville and Lewiston, since 2007.

What’s happening alongside that wage growth is also telling.

For instance, Portland’s wages have grown more slowly than Bangor’s and other major cities’, but that’s against the backdrop of an expanding job market that surged past its pre-recession peak four years ago.

Meanwhile, Bangor has remained about 900 payroll jobs short of 2007 levels since 2015. While Bangor has seen little job growth in that time, Portland jobs rose by 5.4 percent, a rate nearly matched across the Penobscot River from Bangor, in Brewer.

[The pitfalls and strengths of local data on income and housing]

Aside from health care, the industries that have added the most jobs in Bangor since 2007, educational services and food and accommodation, pay less than the area’s average wage. Meanwhile, jobs have dwindled in seven industries with above-average pay, including manufacturing and finance and insurance, according to a quarterly census of employers.

Part of the drop in median incomes could be an exodus of higher-earners for nearby suburbs.

The share of households making more than $100,000 in Bangor has shrunk since the recession, while a greater share of families make between $35,000 and $40,000 a year, according to census estimates.

The data point to Glenburn, Hermon and Hudson as likely destinations for those higher earners.

That’s because while the share of higher-income households dropped in Bangor proper, IRS data show they have grown as a share of Bangor’s 04401 ZIP code, which includes Glenburn, Hermon and part of Hudson.

In Glenburn and Hermon, homes are more expensive than in Bangor, but median incomes are also higher, making them affordable by MaineHousing standards. Hampden is also rated as affordable, with the highest median household income in the area, of nearly $80,000, more than double Bangor’s $36,044 last year.

Maine Focus is a journalism and community engagement initiative at the Bangor Daily News. Questions? Write to mainefocus@bangordailynews.com.

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