Six people who lived at a former motel in Bucksport have been moved from the property as the town moves closer to deciding whether to condemn it because of physical conditions that a local town official called “sketchy and dangerous.”
The future of the Fountain Inn on Route 1, and whether anyone will be allowed to live there, has been in question since mid-February, when the Bucksport Town Council decided to schedule a public hearing on whether it should force it to close. An inconsistent water supply, substandard plumbing, an inoperative furnace and smoke detectors that don’t work all have been cited by town officials as reasons why they think the property, formerly called the Spring Fountain Motel, is unsafe for habitation.
Since the council scheduled a hearing for April 8, the non-profit organization H.O.M.E. in neighboring Orland has offered assistance to people living at the former motel, which no longer has an innkeepers license and is operating as a multi-unit rental property. H.O.M.E., which provides assistance to low-income and homeless people, has helped six of roughly 40 people believed to be living at the site to find new housing.
“We’ve reached out to 25 people living there,” Tracey Hair, H.O.M.E.’s executive director, said Thursday. She said H.O.M.E. staffers went door-to-door at the former motel on Feb. 19, and plan to return with a caseworker from the state Department of Health and Human Services to follow up on other residents’ needs.
Of the six people who relocated, some were provided with emergency shelter, one couple moved in with relatives, and another person simply needed a ride to start a job somewhere else that came with housing, Hair said. Often, when H.O.M.E. helps people find housing she said, it is just a matter helping a person make a phone call or get a car inspected. It’s not always because the person needs to go to a homeless shelter, she said.
Affordable housing is in low supply in Hancock County due in large part to high property values driven by interest from wealthy people from out of state. In addition, Hair said, the number of available beds at homeless shelters throughout Maine and the country has dropped during the COVID-19 pandemic because of physical distancing requirements.
Even when shelter beds are available, she said, it can be “a hard choice” for someone to leave housing they already have, even if it is substandard.
“People who have hit hard times deserve a place to be safe,” Hair said. “This did not appear to be safe.”
Among the conditions H.O.M.E. staffers saw during their Fountain Inn site visit were a lack of running water, buckets placed outside to collect water from melting ice, extension cords running between rooms to power electric heaters, loose railings, and pieces of concrete that had fallen from the upper balcony. She said the walking surface outside the rooms was slippery because no salt or sand had been spread on the ice.
“It is a concern,” she said of the physical upkeep at the former motel.
A manager at the Fountain Inn who was contacted Thursday by email, and who did not provide a name, said some of the assertions from town officials that have been reported in prior news stories “were even news to me.” The manager declined to comment on the town’s specific concerns or claims about the physical state of the property.
The owner of the former motel — listed in town assessing records as Asad Khaqan — lives in New Jersey, town officials have said.
Susan Lessard, Bucksport’s town manager, said that the town is continuing to monitor the situation and is grateful that H.O.M.E. is helping people relocate to safer and more stable housing. She said the inn still owes the town $4,100 in overdue property taxes and $29,500 in unpaid sewer liens and bills.
Lessard, who is a member of H.O.M.E.’s board of directors, said that Bucksport has no housing authority and that the services offered by H.O.M.E. to area residents are “invaluable.” The organization also has offered food assistance to Fountain Inn residents, she said.
Even though some Fountain Inn residents have moved out, Lessard said, until the Town Council holds a public hearing and decides whether to condemn the property, there is nothing to prevent new tenants from moving in. But the situation at the motel has been well publicized, she said, and the people who manage and own the property are well aware of the town’s concerns, which town officials have raised several times in recent years.
“They’re aware this hearing is coming,” Lessard said.