Update: The letters evicting low-income Portland tenants were sent in error. Read the latest story here.
Serena McIntyre arrived home from work the afternoon of Oct. 17 and found a folded piece of paper taped to her door. It informed her that her apartment complex had been sold, and, because the new owner was renovating and no longer wanted to house tenants on rental assistance, she and her three children needed to move within about two months.
“It was already going to be hard enough to figure out Christmas,” McIntyre, 37, said. The single mother and her children, one of whom is deaf, were ordered to leave by Dec. 31.
McIntyre’s family is one of at least 16 low-income households at an apartment complex in Portland that has been told to move out during the coming holiday season, in what may be one of the biggest mass evictions in Maine’s largest city in recent years. A new owner plans to improve the eight-building property at 240 Harvard St. and cited “business and economic reasons” for ending their tenancy, according to several eviction notices.
The tenants now face the challenge of finding an inexpensive place to live in a city with a shortage of affordable options, according to the Portland Housing Authority, which administers rental assistance to the 16 households now facing eviction.
The notices also said the new owner, 240 Harvard Street LLC, had decided “not to participate in the Section 8 program.” Known formally as the Housing Choice Voucher program, it helps tenants like McIntyre cover a portion of their rent with federal dollars.
“It definitely feels noteworthy because of the scale,” said Pine Tree Legal Assistance Attorney Katie McGovern, of the pending evictions. Three of the tenants reached out to the legal aid organization after receiving eviction notices. One of them has lived in the complex for more than 20 years, McGovern said.
A lawyer for the company that bought the 61-unit apartment complex last month, 240 Harvard Street LLC, did not respond to a voicemail seeking comment on Monday. The property management company that took over maintenance of the complex, CRM Apartments, deferred comment to their corporate headquarters, Corridor Ventures, in Connecticut. It did not return a call for comment.
It’s not clear if the new owner has only handed eviction notices to voucher-holding tenants, said McGovern, who is investigating the situation.
A tenant who lives there, Larissa McGill, told the Bangor Daily News that one of her neighbors is being evicted and doesn’t use a voucher to pay her rent. She showed a reporter a picture of the eviction notice, which does not mention the Section 8 program.
Another tenant, Nick Heilner, has not been ordered to leave. He does not receive any public assistance to pay rent at his one-bedroom unit, which costs $1,000 a month, he said.
Meanwhile, another tenant has apparently been given a year to leave, according to Westbrook Housing Authority Director Chris LaRoche. The authority helps pay for two tenants who live at the complex. LaRoche had not spoken to the second tenant.
McGill, who uses a voucher to pay her family’s rent, said she was so alarmed by the upheaval the eviction would cause that she reached out to Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling. He is up for re-election today in a tight race that has often focused on the city’s housing affordability crisis. In 2016, he helped negotiate a longer timeline for tenants to leave during another sweeping eviction of low-income tenants from their homes in the city’s Deering neighborhood.
Mark Adelson, executive director of the Portland Housing Authority, expressed concern about the explicit mention of Section 8 in the eviction notices. That’s because landlords can’t discriminate against tenants based on their source of income, according to the Maine Human Rights Act. They can, however, opt out of voucher programs because they require landlords to bear an extra administrative burden, such as by passing a property inspection, Maine’s highest court has ruled.
All of the homes of tenants using a voucher to live at 240 Harvard St. had passed inspections, Adelson said.
Finding housing in Maine’s largest city will be difficult for people like McIntyre. Half of tenants who have a voucher, but no place to live, don’t find a home before their voucher expires, Adelson said. For those who do ultimately find a place, it takes an average of 68 days.
McIntyre has lived in her three-bedroom apartment for a year, and the stability has helped her juggle the demands of raising three children — ages 4, 7 and 15 — while working full time as a manager at a McDonald’s, she said, sitting on her couch while she looked after her 4-year-old, Jaedyn, who was home sick from school. She received two raises and a promotion in the last year, but still only makes $13.75 an hour.
Her voucher means she only puts a few hundred dollars of her paycheck toward her total $1,630 rent each month, but the family is still barely scraping by, she said. McIntyre spent what little savings she had earlier this year on an unexpected repair to her car. She is slowly paying off medical debt that’s built up over the years since her oldest son lost his hearing after a bout of meningitis when he was 2, she said.
McIntyre worries she may need to stay in a homeless shelter if she can’t find a new apartment quickly enough, while her younger children worry that Santa won’t be able to find them if they move before Christmas, she said. The dearth of affordable units in places like Portland means it will be difficult to find another place to live that is in her price range, but she doesn’t want to move her kids out of the school system, and she doesn’t want to lose her job.
After finding the eviction notice taped to her door last month, McIntyre let the weekend pass before telling her kids they would need to move. She is still perfecting her sign language, she said, and wanted to tell her oldest son the news with the help of someone from his school, so nothing would get lost in translation.
Raising three kids, and one with special needs, by herself has made her a “fighter,” she said. Her eyes welled with tears. “That doesn’t mean I’m not terrified.”
Maine Focus is a journalism and community engagement initiative at the Bangor Daily News. Questions? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.