When Jared and Ryan Morris walked through 69 Fruit St. in Bangor in 2019, abandoned trash filled each room from floor to ceiling. There was a 2-foot-wide aisle that snaked through the home where people could walk. In some places, people had to turn sideways to squeeze through towering piles of garbage the previous owner left behind.
The brothers, who are also business partners, are among a group of contractors the city periodically invites to tour abandoned, city-owned homes in the hope that someone will purchase and rehabilitate them.
As contractors that day toured the Fruit Street property — which the city had taken over due to unpaid taxes and utility bills — Jared and Ryan Morris saw everyone who entered the building turn around, shaking their heads.
But the Morrises, who run Bangor-based J&R Contracting Group, saw its potential. They bought 69 Fruit St. from the city in October 2019 for $1,100, according to city records.
Ryan Morris said the pair had a dumpster delivered to the home, and slowly began cleaning it out. The trash in the home filled the dumpster roughly 50 times, he said.
They then spent 8-12 months gutting the home and renovating the interior and exterior, which cost “over six figures,” according to Jared Morris. They finished in April and now rent the single-family home to a growing family who work in the area.
“From where it was to where we brought it was a night-and-day difference,” Jared Morris said.
Over the past three years, the city of Bangor has sold 23 abandoned homes to contractors with plans to rehabilitate them. Those homes were once among the city’s running list of condemned properties considered too dangerous to live in, which the city has managed to slash in recent years.
Of the 92 homes currently on the city’s list of condemned properties, about a third are either in the process of being rehabilitated or have been sold to contractors who intend to do so, said Jeff LaBree, Bangor’s housing rehabilitation coordinator.
The often-dilapidated homes represent one potential source of added housing as the city grapples with a crunch that has left some first-time homebuyers priced out and resulted in others seeing their rents spike.
While Bangor hasn’t taken ownership of any abandoned homes from the condemned properties list so far this year, it plans to resume doing so this fall, with the intention of selling them to contractors who convert the properties into housing, LaBree said.
“That list will probably be knocked down a lot more within the next 12-16 months,” LaBree said. “We’re headed in the right direction.”
Although the project on Fruit Street was expensive and time consuming, Jared Morris said he and his brother wanted to rehabilitate one of Bangor’s many unloved homes both to add housing and spruce up the city.
“We’ve grown up in Bangor, so we thought it would be a good way to give back to the community and help improve the housing structure of Bangor,” Jared Morris said. “There are a lot of run-down homes in the area, and we thought this was an opportunity to make a difference.”
Ryan Morris said it’s frustrating to see so many of Bangor’s beautiful, historic homes fall into disrepair while others in Maine scrounge for a place to live.
“There’s a real lack of housing in Bangor but there are plenty of condemned properties in the area,” Ryan Morris said. “It takes a contractor with resources who’s willing to do it, but these homes can be brought back to life. That can also help alleviate the housing crisis we’re seeing.”
Steven Farren, owner of General Interest LLC, a Bangor-based property development and management company, purchased a condemned home at 486 Hammond St. from the city in May with plans to demolish the existing structure and build a single-family home in its place.
The Hammond Street property was placed on Bangor’s condemned properties list in 2015, and listed in “serious” condition for being “unsanitary” and having no working utilities, according to city records.
The new home will be slightly smaller than the existing structure to meet code requirements, Farren said. It’ll be between 1,500 and 1,800 square feet and have three bedrooms and 2½ bathrooms.
Farren didn’t have an estimated completion date or sale price for the home.
Although Farren was able to purchase the property from the city for only $5,100, he said the project will not be more cost-effective for him than if he bought a piece of undeveloped land to build upon. He said it will cost at least $40,000 to safely remove asbestos on the existing structure, then demolish it, before construction on the new building can begin.
Crews were stripping asbestos from the exterior of the home this week, Farren said, and the structure will be demolished in the coming weeks.
Despite the challenge and expense, Farren said he wanted to rehabilitate one of Bangor’s neglected properties because of its proximity to downtown, and he hopes other developers will be inspired to do the same.
“I live in Bangor, I work in Bangor. I care about the area, and it’s unfortunate that there are so many rundown properties here,” Farren said. “I’m doing this to improve Bangor in the hopes that other people will do the same. When they see one property improving, they’ll want to improve the property next door, and it will just continue on and it’ll be a beautiful, desirable place to live for everybody.”
Farren said this is the first abandoned property he has purchased to turn into housing, but he wouldn’t be opposed to sprucing up other neglected properties in Bangor.
“It’s not good for anybody to have that many condemned properties in such a small town,” he said. “If your neighbor improves their property, it improves the value of your property. It’s one big cycle.”