6 Unburned Pieces of The Mind
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Dear Pines Residents

Last year when the apartment complex I live in was bought by a couple of real estate investors, I knew it couldn’t be good.

It seems real estate investors today only get in on something if it promises a quick return on their money. Settling into a long term investment, such as what would be normally expected of an apartment complex, is anathema to their current business model. As I said to one of my neighbors, “Only two reasons why real estate investors would buy a complex like this. Either to upgrade the place and flip it, or to convert the apartments into condos.”

After the apartments were surveyed in January, I had a strong feeling the answer would be conversion. Sure enough, that’s exactly what the investors announced in a letter mailed to residents last week. Aside from mentioning the few minor improvements they made to the complex, and promising to continue to do so, they also announced that it is their intent “to convert the Pines apartments into condominiums within the next year.”

Belfast is not known for affordable rental housing, mostly because supply is limited. Most of what’s available for apartments can be found in houses and buildings that have been converted into apartments over the years. These places, when advertised, are described as either “spacious and clean,” or “newly renovated.” “Spacious and clean,” as in putting a marble in the corner of the living room floor and watching it roll to the middle, can be affordable, but “newly renovated” seldom is.

Apartment complexes, though, are few and far between. There’s an apartment complex for low-income people across the street from the hospital, and another ‘cross river, a few complexes for the elderly, and a complex built by MBNA for its employees—which, incidentally, is also going condo—but that’s about it.

Located across the street from the high school, the Pines consist of three two-story buildings with four apartments on each floor. It’s the only complex of its kind within city limits that rents to mid-income people who either work or are retired.

Most of the elderly who live here have retirement incomes that make then ineligible for low-income housing, but for some it isn’t enough to afford living in a retirement community. It is these people who are facing an even worse predicament.

“I can’t do this,” said the elderly lady who lives across the hall from me. “But I don’t know where else to go. I love Belfast. I have a lot of friends here. Where else will I be able to find something similar to what I have now? That’s as nice and as affordable?”

Indeed, that’s the million dollar question the Planning Board will be faced with on April 12, since taking a complex like this off the market can only exacerbate Belfast’s affordable housing crisis.

I look at the letter again, its friendly tone, its promise of making sure that the impact and disruption upon our lives will not be immediate, its reassurance that we will have plenty of time to either decide on purchasing our unit at a reduced rate, or in moving.

At the prices I’ve heard they’ll be asking, I doubt very many of the residents who live here, including myself, will be able to afford buying a condo with a mortgage of $800 or more a month. When you add in a $200 a month condo fee, taxes and insurance, that $800 or more swells to about $1300 a month. That right there, prices me and most of the other residents currently living here right out of the market.

It’s been a good three years here, but since my life has never been about staying in any one place too long, perhaps it is time to think about moving on. Where, though, I don’t know. I suppose I could find a smaller place here in town. Or try finding something similar in Rockland.

As I sit on the couch looking about the room, I’m struck by how much stuff I’ve accumulated over the years. Things. Lots of things, some purposeful and sentimental, but most not fulfilling any specific need except taking up space. The wine barrel used as a lamp table that’s in the corner of the room makes a nice decoration, but I don’t need it. Boxes of books and magazines I’ve read once but likely will never read again can be donated to the school library. Bags and bags of worn out or out of style clothes kept in the closet can also be donated or simply thrown out. At least that would be a start.

From there I can tackle each room and organize my “things” into three categories: must keep, must sell, and . . . just get rid of it, all of it, everything and anything that is of no value or use at all, sentimental or otherwise.

I sit down at the table and look out the window. It’s been raining all day, but with a drop in temperature, the rain has changed to a heavy wet snow with quarter sized flakes. Perhaps April is the cruelest month of the year, a time that promises both uncertainty and new beginnings. I grab my coat and head out the door, wondering about my choices as to where I might move should the planning board give its blessing.

S. L. Cunningham,
Village Soup Citizen, 4/12/06:25