BANGOR, Maine — A developer wants to build apartments it hopes will breathe new life into a troubled section of the city, but some residents say the proposed project would move the neighborhood in the wrong direction.
Mike Myatt, executive director of Bangor Housing Development Corp., envisions a series of townhouse-style apartments near the intersection of First and Davis streets geared toward people working along the mile-long stretch of Main Street from Hollywood Casino to Bangor’s downtown. Last summer, Bangor Housing purchased six First Street buildings for a total of $500,000 in the area behind Shaw’s supermarket.
Cathy Cahill, a Second Street resident whose family has owned and lived in the same home for three generations, said the neighborhood needs a boost but she and other neighbors don’t believe more rental housing is the answer. She questions whether such a development would spark the “major transformation on First Street” called for in the city’s plan to revive the area.
The last tenants of the First Street apartments relocated to other apartments last week. The buildings are boarded up and doors secured with padlocks while they await likely demolition. Most have weak foundations and other structural issues that could make rehabilitation a costly option.
The development is still in the very early stages. WBRC Architects of Bangor sketched a site plan that features two main buildings with a total of 24 units, one on each side of First Street. Each building has a parking lot in the rear and there is a “community building” as well. The plan hasn’t entered the design phase, according to Myatt, and would still require approval from the city’s planning board sometime next year.
Bangor Housing Development Corp. is a development wing of Bangor Housing Authority, a quasi-governmental agency that provides housing opportunities for low- to moderate-income households.
“This is a type of housing that we haven’t built before,” Myatt said before pointing to the boarded-up First Street building behind him. “This is what’s here now and we can deliver something better.”
“I really envision working-class families living in this neighborhood,” Myatt said Tuesday. The location is prime for worker housing, he argued, as it’s close to Main Street, in walking distance of big employers like Hollywood Casino and the Cross Insurance Center and smaller businesses in downtown Bangor.
He also would like to connect the apartments to the Second Street Park, which is currently cut off from First Street by a treeline.
The project would require a roughly $4 million investment, according to Myatt, who said he has applied for tax credits through MaineHousing that would be passed onto whatever entity puts up the money.
Some neighbors have concerns that such a project might not spark a change in their neighborhood. A group of residents met with Myatt recently and toured the site. Some expressed their concerns, he said. Others expressed support.
The project ties in with the city’s efforts to revitalize a neighborhood stretching from Main Street west to Third Street and from Buck Street north to Union Street. The area was referred to as “West Side Village” in a revitalization strategy unveiled by the city in July.
The apartments would not be rent-subsidized, but would be priced to accommodate some lower-wage earners. There would be a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments. Myatt estimates that rent for a one-bedroom unit would range from $618 to $742; two bedrooms for $742-891; or $856-$1,028 for three. That would make the one-bedroom apartments affordable for someone with an annual income range of $23,100-$31,680; income of $26,400-$39,540 for two bedrooms; or $29,700-$45,900 for three bedrooms, according to Myatt.
Cahill calls that low-income housing, but Myatt argues that it’s priced for people who work in jobs along Bangor’s Main Street.
The six buildings slated for demolition were all at one point single-family homes. Decades ago, they were subdivided and chopped into units, until they held 19 separate apartments.
Cahill said that in the 1980s and ’90s, homes that were once owned by railway employees who worked on the Bangor waterfront were sold by later generations to landlords, many of whom divided the buildings into multiple units to make the large, old, inefficient buildings financially viable.
She said an increase in low-rent apartments contributed to an increase in crime, drug use and other problems that degraded the neighborhood’s reputation over the years.
According to census data cited in a neighborhood revitalization plan, about 70 percent of the households in the area are occupied by low- to medium-income families. The median income is $25,405. More rental housing won’t be the answer, she argued.
Instead, she said she and several other neighbors would like the city or Bangor Housing to look into other options, such as a condominium, single-family homes or owner-occupied homes. Cahill questioned whether the city had done enough to market the street for potential development of condos or new homes.
One of the strategies outlined in that part of the neighborhood is to attract 30 new homeowners to the area by providing assistance for people willing to close on properties and fix them up. Cahill said she doesn’t see potential for more apartments causing a transformation in the neighborhood.
“My neighbors and I are concerned [Bangor Housing’s plan] is not in keeping with the neighborhood plan,” Cahill said during an interview Tuesday.
Myatt believes that this project would have a positive effect on the community, prompting other property owners to improve their buildings to match the new ones down the street, leading to a spike in property values in the area. He said Bangor Housing has a policy of carefully screening tenants before allowing them to move in and ensuring that they keep up with their rent.
Myatt said he would continue talks with neighborhood residents and the city about his plans. It likely will be a long process, which could go to the planning board in early spring, with construction beginning this time next year, pending funding and approval.
“Somebody’s got to be the first one to jump into the pool,” Myatt said. “No one wants to be the best house on a bad street, but we’re willing to do that.”