June 19, 2018
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Bangor neighborhood in turmoil transforms into peaceful community, thanks to residents

Renee Ordway
By Renee Ordway, Special to the BDN

Sometimes speaking up pays off, and in at least one case in Bangor, it has.

Last fall, neighbors along Webster Avenue North felt like hostages in their homes.

One afternoon, a woman in the late stages of pregnancy lay writhing in the middle of the street in the throes of what appeared to a drug-induced fit.

A few evenings earlier, a woman watched out her window as a delusional man screamed obscenities at her house.

A week later, the Bangor Police Department’s Special Response Team, geared up in their body armor and armed with assault rifles, evacuated neighbors from their homes before busting into a nearby apartment and arresting three people for a pharmacy robbery that had only recently occurred.

And one morning, a little boy stood in his window and yelled to his mom that a naked man was running around wildly in the street outside their front door.

These circumstances aren’t exactly “the way life should be” along the dead-end Bangor street that borders on a city park and has footpaths leading to an elementary school, a city pool, playground and tennis courts.

But it was the reality for those who lived along Webster Avenue North otherwise made up of neat homes of retirees and young families.

So a couple of ladies (moms to be exact) chose to speak up.

They lent their voices to a campaign to convince city councilors that it was time the city take action to make their neighborhood livable again.

In January the council approved a “disruptive property” ordinance that took aim at the owners of rental properties that attracted tenants .

Police your own properties, be decent neighbors or face the penalties.

“Be accountable” was the message the city councilors sent to irresponsible landlords, most who live nowhere near the troublesome tenants who frightened and disrupted the daily lives of their neighbors.

On Webster Avenue North, the problem lay squarely with Bangor Efficiency Apartments, a licensed rooming and lodging facility mostly used by those looking for temporary housing.

The motel-like building runs parallel to Webster Avenue North putting it in the backyards of the residents on that side of the street. The complex also consists of two apartment buildings that serve as an annex and are located directly on Webster Avenue North.

Seven months have passed since the ordinance was adopted and life is different now.

The landlord listened.

Alex Mitchell, a co-manager of B&L Properties which owns Bangor Efficiency Apartments said this week that in March, the manager of Bangor Efficiency Apartments was let go. He and Peggy Rokes, a long-time resident and former assistant manager, took over.

“We changed the process in which we do or do not accept people as tenants,” Mitchell said. “We cast a larger net.”

The business no longer accepts tenants with any previous drug convictions, for example.

“We explain that to them ahead of time so they are aware that we will be conducting a criminal background check and we will adhere to that policy,” he said.

The company also changed landscaping and grounds maintenance businesses, even ensuring that the property itself is better cared for aesthetically.

“We’ve tried to set an example of respectability. We want our staff to feel like they would be willing to live in our units,” he said.

Mitchell acknowledged that Bangor Efficiency Apartments was being mismanaged which resulted in the troublesome tenants living there, especially last fall.

He further acknowledged that it was most certainly the new ordinance that prompted B&L Properties to step up and reevaluate the condition of the property.

“When that ordinance came down on us we knew we had to do something,” he said. “The city inspector was in here and gave us specific dates to fix things and our insurance adjuster also indicated we needed to make changes in order to stay insured.”

Neighbors have noticed.

Both of the neighborhood mothers who spoke up last fall contacted B&L Properties owner Bernie LaBree and thanked him for his effort.

“I told him, ‘Bernie I know I’m the first to call when things are bad, so I want you to know how nice things are now and how much I appreciate it,’” said one of the women.

Thursday evening, the other mom told me the neighbors were in “la la land” because they were so happy with the quiet and peacefulness along their street.

“We have not had to call the police once this summer. I mean that’s really something. I thought for sure there would be trouble on the 4th of July, but there wasn’t any problem at all,” she said. “It seems that the people who are living there now are regular citizens. I see them getting up and going to work each day.”

Both women said the new “normal” seems to have been a win-win for everyone.

“I think [management] is having an easier time. They say they are doing less evictions. The property looks better and people seem happy to be there,” said one.

One woman who told me last year that she routinely found syringes in her backyard planted a garden there this spring.

“We thought for sure we’d have a problem and that people would tear it up and ruin it, but not at all. We’ve had no problems and I can’t tell you what a change that has made in our lives. We have our home back,” she said.

And Mitchell says everyone at B&L Properties is feeling good.

“Sometimes change comes hard, and we’ve worked hard over the past several months. We thought originally making these changes would make things more difficult for us, but instead it’s made things much easier and we feel good that the neighbors are seeing the results of that. Everything is better than it was before,” he said.

And the two moms who took the leads as the voices of the neighborhood are happy to spend quiet summer evenings on their front porches with no police or assault rifles in sight.

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