Bangor, ME

Bangor Developers are Working Overtime to Restore Abandoned Homes

By Tanya Svoboda
August 2020

Bangor homeowners have been frustrated as they’ve watched the city’s abandoned housing problem chip away at their community’s property values and safety. In a Bangor Daily News article, resident Julie Lisnet said that “when she first moved into her house on French Street more than 20 years ago, there was a beautiful historic Bangor home at 17 Garland St., which abuts her property. She witnessed the neighborhood’s demise over the years as the owners failed to maintain the abutting houses.”

Current and prospective homeowners have been excited about the recent trend of developers purchasing and restoring historic properties that were slated for demolition. Due to their efforts, the number of vacant homes in Bangor has dropped by a whopping 25 percent.

The Disheartening Decline

Jeff Wallace, the city’s Director of Code Enforcement, felt that the abandoned property issue gained speed during the mortgage crisis of 2008. More than a decade later, some of those properties have deteriorated to the point of no repair. Often it is neighbors who deal with the consequences.

“Generally, the homes are in ownership limbo. Banks often will initiate a foreclosure procedure but not complete it, according to Wallace. The banks pay taxes and hire people to do minor maintenance, such as occasionally mowing the lawn, but the property is mostly neglected.” While the city has tried to get rid of the worst eyesores, it costs them between “$15,000 and $20,000 to tear a building down” making it unrealistic to demolish all of them.

Developers are Turning Things Around

Private investors have been responsible for many of the city’s recent rehabs. In one instance, developers Kortnie Mullins and her husband Nicholas bought and consequently saved a home on Garland Street just 48 hours before it was slated for demolition. The couple said the home was in need of a lot of work when they first saw it. There was a sign with a large “X” on the front and it was marked as dangerous. “Imagine this home with barely a foundation, barely a roof, pretty much just a shell,” said Kortnie. “Fate had it that I just happened to come and see it.”

Bangor’s Director of Code Enforcement shared that “Demolition is absolutely the last resort. If someone can save a building, that’s ideal.” Aside from the fact that empty lots do nothing to help increase an area’s desirability, demolition can be costly. Depending on what’s found inside, it typically costs the city between $15,000-$20,000 to demolish a single-family home.

New Legislation is Helping

A recently passed Act, effective June 16th, allows “mortgagees, through mortgage loan servicers, to enter the property for the purpose of abating an identified nuisance, preserving property, preventing waste, or securing the property.”

Allowing a mortgagee or mortgage service provider to secure these crumbling properties and prevent further deterioration offers communities, like Bangor, the chance to rebuild and to do so affordably. Finding affordable housing can be challenging in other Maine cities like Portland where homes sell quickly and often with multiple offers.

While developers and investors are making headway in the restoration of many of these treasured homes, some remain beyond repair. The Bangor Daily News notes, “Houses that the city has deemed to be uninhabitable are identified by a written notice from the city, called the placard condemnation, taped to each front door.” Condemned homes are classified into three categories: average, serious, and dangerous.

Homes rated average have the highest chance of being saved, according to Wallace. Homes rated serious or dangerous present bigger challenges to rehabbers like structural damage, rotten staircases, unstable decks, and roofing. But even the worst homes remain a dangerous eyesore and can sit vacant for another three months after demolition is recommended, which is why Wallace is encouraged that people are starting to buy these homes, fix them up, or rent them out. Because in the end, fewer abandoned properties are better for the entire community.


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