September 16, 2019
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Bangor weighs next steps to address ‘unacceptable’ housing problems

Gabor Degre | BDN
Gabor Degre | BDN
Homes along Union Street near the corner of Hudson Street in Bangor. The area is part of Bangor’s Whitney Park neighborhood. 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.

Bangor officials are working to decide on the next steps to take to address a number of problems facing the city’s housing supply, including rising rents and some poor-quality units, particularly for low-income renters.

Those steps could include launching a formal inspection program for rental properties, releasing inspection records on a public registry so potential renters know the quality of each unit, and taking legal action against landlords who don’t address code violations.

Those were some of the highest-priority recommendations in a housing report the city published this spring after months of meetings by a task force that included city officials, residents, landlords, housing developers and others.

The task force identified numerous concerns with the city’s housing market, including an aging rental stock, deteriorating housing conditions, rising rents for a population with relatively stagnant wages and a lack of accountability for landlords. The group said the problems have become “unacceptable for a community, like Bangor, that values quality of life and livable housing in desirable neighborhoods.”

[Bangor’s housing problems have become ‘unacceptable.’ New report tells city to tackle them.]

The group made a series of recommendations for accomplishing five broad goals: improving the housing stock, making it more affordable, housing the city’s most vulnerable populations, changing zoning in ways that could encourage affordable housing development and working with private groups.

Some landlords have expressed concern that the new initiatives could amount to “government overreach,” but officials have “heard that and respect that,” according to Jason Bird, a member of the task force and the housing development director at the social services organization Penquis.

Charles Eichacker | BDN
Charles Eichacker | BDN
Two Bangor officials, city assessor Phil Drew and code enforcement director Jeff Wallace, as well as Penquis housing developer Jason Bird, spoke at a June 4 event about Bangor housing that was hosted by the Maine Real Estate & Development Association, or MEREDA.

“The city is not going to nitpick every crack in the wall,” Bird said Tuesday morning during a presentation in Bangor that was organized by the Maine Real Estate and Development Association. “It’s going to be the life safety items [that prevent fires and other catastrophes]. We want to avoid something like that happening in our city.”

[All the damaged Bangor apartments that tax dollars pay for]

Bird also praised Jeff Wallace, Bangor’s code enforcement director since April 2018 and a speaker at the same presentation. Since Wallace took that position, Bird has heard from developers who think the city has become less of “a barrier” and more of “a partner” in their efforts.

Charles Eichacker | BDN
Charles Eichacker | BDN
Two Bangor officials, city assessor Phil Drew and code enforcement director Jeff Wallace, as well as Penquis housing developer Jason Bird, spoke at a June 4 event about Bangor housing that was hosted by the Maine Real Estate & Development Association, or MEREDA.

City staff hope to develop an inspection program over the next six months to a year, but before it can launch, it will need to be approved and funded by the Bangor City Council, according to Tanya Emery, director of community and economic development.

At a meeting this week, some councilors said they would like the city to prioritize the creation of the rental registry.

[Bangor less affordable for renters than Portland]

Others agreed that it’s needed, but said that they would like the city to bring more urgency to two other goals identified in the report, improving the affordability of the city’s housing stock and housing the city’s most vulnerable populations.

The report also included recommendations for how the city can create incentives for the development of new and rehabbed housing, institute new tenant protections, and identify housing and rental properties available at different price levels.

It said that a safety net will need to be developed for tenants who must leave properties that have been condemned as a result of ramped-up inspections.

Watch: Carolyn Fish talks about being homeless in Bangor for years

 



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