Clockwise from left: Cara Pelletier, Donald McCann, Rebecca Schwartz Mette, Rick Fournier and Dan Tremble. Credit: BDN composite

Bangor City Council candidates generally agreed on the most pressing issues facing the city, but offered subtly different solutions when it came to solving them at a candidate forum on Thursday night.

The five candidates running for three council seats in the Nov. 8 election agreed that a lack of housing, homelessness and economic growth were the most pressing issues facing Bangor in interviews with the Bangor Daily News last month. They reiterated those positions at a candidate forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Maine and the Unitarian Universalist Society of Bangor that took place at Bangor City Hall, while also touching on varying ideas when it came to other issues like supporting artists in the downtown district.

Bangor currently faces a housing shortage for both renters and prospective homebuyers, as well as a growing homeless population. A recent BDN series highlighted the city’s lack of a strategy to address the issue, and explored what cities with similar populations and climates to Bangor have done to reduce homelessness in their areas.

Incumbent councilors Rick Fournier and Dan Tremble, who are running to be reelected for three-year terms, touted their years of experience on the council at the forum, while pointing to recent inroads the city had made when it came to encouraging housing development. They highlighted a burgeoning partnership with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the use of state grants to fund agencies that work with low- and moderate-income residents.

Cara Pelletier, who is running for her first term, said if elected she would propose using federal funding to build more transitional housing. Another newcomer, Rebecca Schwartz Mette, said she would propose repurposing underutilized buildings like the Bangor Mall for housing.

Donald McCann, also a new challenger, said he would establish a housing coalition made of city agencies, faith-based organizations, nonprofits and local businesses to share ideas about how to tackle the housing crisis and homelessness, like rolling back onerous zoning regulations.

The candidates also offered diverse solutions for how to keep Bangor affordable for artists as the downtown district has become more expensive and competition for a tight supply of commercial space has surged.

“We have to keep our cultural resources at the center of any kind of development plan that we would move forward with, and that involves protecting those spaces as affordable spaces so that artists and other community members can continue to contribute to the vibrant cultural scene that we have going on in Bangor,” Schwartz Mette said.

The city is working with MaineHousing to secure $500,000 to support low-income residents, including artists, to pay for security deposits and monthly rent, Fournier said.

Pelletier said she would support establishing an artists’ residency program and drafting a commercial rent ordinance similar to the tenants’ rights ordinance the City Council is considering. She also stressed that the city needed to find ways to make renovating older buildings less expensive for all residents.

“There are folks who would like to open small businesses downtown but the cost of renovating the space in order to make it workable and livable for them is cost prohibitive,” Pelletier said.

McCann said he would take an incremental approach to building and encourage denser development in the downtown district.

“The more of a supply that we have in the area, the less the rents would be,” he said.

Tremble proposed repurposing buildings for shared artists’ studios, like the commercial kitchen that the city is building on the site of the former officers’ club at Dow Air Force Base.

“I think there’s something we can do where people can have some shared space, and the city can be proud of that,” he said.

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Lia Russell

Lia Russell is a reporter on the city desk for the Bangor Daily News. Send tips to LRussell@bangordailynews.com.