A motorcyclist drives through downtown Rumford on Aug. 20, 2020. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

Most Maine cities and towns have seen home prices rise by at least 30 percent since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, but only one has seen home prices double.

It may be a surprise. The Oxford County town of Rumford saw the price for an average home spike from nearly $92,000 in January 2020 to just over $189,000 in June, according to Zillow data. Such a steep price jump in a town that is less expensive than most others illustrates the depth of Maine’s housing affordability crisis. It also underscores the town’s revitalization efforts.

Known for its Paul Bunyan statue and waterfalls heading into town from Route 2, Rumford also is home to the ND Paper mill. But the town is shaking its image as primarily a mill town to one with diverse businesses and access to the outdoors, and that is attracting more people to compete for housing, George O’Keefe Jr., its economic development director, said.

“A lot of the stereotypes that were previously associated with the mill, in particular the odor, have been successfully mitigated,” he said. “Now we have this beautiful town up against the Rumford Falls in the river valley and a nice community ski area at Black Mountain of Maine.”

The first light of dawn brightens the sky as skiers make their way up Black Mountain of Maine| Robert F. Bukaty

The town, which is on the banks of the Androscoggin River, has about 5,900 residents. The paper mill, which opened in 1901 and is now owned by ND Paper, had been the center of business activity for decades, but the town has diversified its employment base in recent decades.

For example, the mill contributed 78 percent of the town’s tax base in 1987, but that has declined to just 14 percent now, O’Keefe said. Other major employers include Rumford Hospital and the Sunday River ski resort in nearby Newry.

There also is an influx of white collar employees from out-of-state and from southern Maine who are working remotely and who moved to the area because it is affordable and livable, he said. Others are commuting roughly an hour to jobs in Augusta and the Lewiston-Auburn area.

That gives Rumford more of a mix of mill workers and professional people who have come to town to enjoy the outdoors, Roger Arsenault, a businessman who has lived in Rumford for most of his life, said. Arsenault is chairman of the board for Black Mountain of Maine and president at Community Energy Co.

“It’s also nice to see younger families coming from away,” he said. “A lot of them are looking at real estate in the area because they find it so affordable.”

Internet speed is good in the area, and many homes are on the same electric grid as the hospital, so service is restored quickly if there is a blackout, Matt Pingree, a realtor at Amnet Realty, said.

Pingree, a Rumford native, said house hunters can still find a good range of prices in the town, even though inventory is low as in other areas of Maine. Homes are getting multiple offers and above-asking prices.

They often have been selling within one week of being listed during the pandemic compared to the three to six months it took before then. The price for an average home in Rumford is up 5.7 percent this June over June 2022, but that is still nearly $200,000 less than the state’s average price of $383,000, according to Zillow.

“Homes in the $150,000 to $200,000 range that can be financed by FHA and rural development loans are going quickly,” Pingree said.

Lori Valigra, investigative reporter for the environment, holds an M.S. in journalism from Boston University. She was a Knight journalism fellow at M.I.T. and has extensive international reporting experience...