Short-term rentals, affordable housing, my garden apartment – Knox County VillageSoup


I came late to garden. My mother was a teacher and spent summers outdoors tending plants. I established my individuality by refusing to work in the garden.

In my twenties, I spent a decade in and out of homes, visiting Mom in between. A mortgage with Joe when we moved to Maine in 1988 gave us the first place I felt like I could claim ownership. We could build the kitchen and bathroom we wanted, he could wield the tools for his job, we planted a swing set in the backyard, and we built our family.

That first summer in Warren, craving my own tomatoes, I tried my hand at gardening and learned that my resistance to dirt under my fingernails was still strong. There were many other things to do and it felt good to eat food that was well grown by those who lived nearby.

Mom sold her house in 2002 and moved into a cottage in a Rockland retirement community. The value of what she bought on a GI loan in 1959 had increased twentyfold. She bought her co-operative interest in Bartlett Woods with cash, leaving enough to supplement her retirement income for the remaining six years.

Old people do what we all do if we are to live. You’re getting older. There came a time when my mother knew she could no longer live alone. She sold her share of the cottage and bought the Broadway home, where she died six months later at home with her children nearby.

During the two years it took us to find the house, Mom often said she was looking for someone who could take care of me when she was gone.

A few years after my mother’s death, I found out about something called Airbnb, which was being advertised as a way of accommodating travelers in their own homes. The information I saw described something a step away from couchsurfing, a way to cover the cost of living in a place big enough to accommodate guests. With property taxes of around $5000 a year and a first floor bedroom with a private bath, I signed on.

Before committing to my first rental, I spoke to Code Enforcement Officer John Root and Frank Isganitis, an owner of one of the city’s larger bed and breakfasts. I didn’t want my little side hustle to violate any regulations or negatively impact Rockland’s hospitality industry. Neither saw any real problems, especially when I explained to the first that Airbnb would track my income so I could pay taxes, and to the second that my rental price would be so low it would attract a clientele that wouldn’t otherwise afford accommodation could our area.

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My guests have come to Rockland from all over the world with the intention of eating at our restaurants, sailing the schooners and browsing the galleries. What they saved on housing was spent nearby and along the way they saw how at least one local family lived.

Airbnb spread over time. Speculators began buying houses to turn them into money generators.

Mine was the first Knox County rental to appear on the Airbnb platform. Year-round apartments and rooms became harder to find and more expensive; Rockland established a short-term rental permitting process and my taxes were paid on time. That was saying a lot for someone making the $11.80 an hour I was making four years into my full-time journalism career; My husband’s art-based business just thrived in the years following the Great Recession.

Today, Knox County has more than 400 rentals listed on Airbnb. Of these, three quarters are finished houses or apartments – potential apartments.

A lot of things in my life changed in 2013 and I responded by deciding to go back to school and rent out the house for $1300 a month to a range of tenants ranging from good friends to complete strangers, reliable to untrustworthy trustworthy enough.

At school I lived in apartments, shared rooms, houses in quiet places and dormitories on campus. Property owners in Bar Harbor use homes as capital for… well, since Mount Desert Island has had homes and ways to bring tourists to its beauty.

As a result, the MDI Rental Resource page on Facebook lists homes and apartments that rent mostly on a weekly basis over three seasons, with longer periods only available from November through April. In the first weeks of September this year there were seven inquiries for seasonal places and an equal number for year-round apartments. Nine owners offered winter rentals, three offered long-term housing.

Almost sounds like an even break until you consider that about half of the requests came from full-time workers with families, with the rest from college students starting their year in September and graduating in June. Rentals are up to $2300 for a single season in Sullivan, an hour’s drive around Frenchman Bay to get to work.

At last spring’s town meeting, Thomaston citizens debated affordable housing and secretary’s salary in two separate warrant articles. In the first discussion, a builder suggested that “affordable” meant a home that cost about $280,000. The subject of secretaries came up when a law enforcement budget line was voted on that would pay $18 an hour for less than 32 hours.

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A recent state employment report put the median annual wage for Knox County workers in 2021 at $47,019. If you plug that number into an online mortgage calculator, you’ll get a $140,000 mortgage with a $60,000 down payment. Barely affordable on a secretary’s salary, and not really enough to buy a house.

The secret ballot portion of this warrant included a question asking voters if we wanted to make a permanent commitment to maintaining the former Maine State Penitentiary yard as open country. We have decided to keep our options open.

Now the city is hosting a series of public workshops to bring together people on “all sides of the Thomaston Green issue,” according to a Sept. 14 article on VillageSoup’s website, with the goal of “establishing.”[ing] a plan for the community to move forward.” These professionally facilitated meetings are intended to “provide a neutral setting for community participants to present as many different perspectives on Thomaston Green as possible,” the story reads.

Usually at these meetings, I was prepared with notes and quotes to share my views on the future of the space between Route 1 and the Saint George River. Instead, I will leave the available time in the workshops to other voices; I have this time and place to express myself.

I live in public housing, which is possible because of my low Social Security income and a cobbled-together five-day work week. When I owned an unmortgaged home, I could barely afford the Rockland property tax on a four bedroom house. Now my rent is linked to my income and I live on 60 square meters with no garden or storage room.

I miss the yard. A friend nearby has a small garden shed for my shovels, snow tires, and garden tools. Tomatoes grow on my windowsill.

In the summer before I went back to school, I took a job with a gardening team. Of the many things Hands and Knees Gardens taught me, one of the things I’m most grateful for is the knowledge that plants want to grow.

After graduating, I moved back to Broadway, became interested in my own garden, and learned to love the tranquility that green and growing things offer. The financial realities of selling a house seemed to have left me behind the moment I stepped out of the kitchen to lie in the hammock, dry laundry outside, and live on the ground floor instead of three stories above everyone.

When people talk about the future of what is now known as Thomaston Green, they often mention apartments. The last proposal, calling for affordable housing, would have placed them on the edge of the Route 1 property. Maybe that’s because the planners and presenters think that poor, old and disabled people don’t deserve a quiet place with a little garden where they can grow their own tomatoes.

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In the town where I live, Mayor Ed Glaser proposed an ordinance earlier this month to treat non-owner-occupied short-term rentals as the businesses they uniquely are. At a series of meetings on the matter, several people opposed Glaser’s proposal, The Courier reports.

Of thirteen opponents cited in the articles I have read, six receive their tax returns out of town. Two live elsewhere in Knox County and the rest outside of Maine. A few homeowners, one living in Camden and the other in Washington state, get tax exemptions of $25,000 or more, which are usually only available to those who live on the property in question.

Three of those who opposed the idea were not found in the Rockland Tax Bill database. Everyone was talking about money.

Houses are often mistaken for cash, but the highest and best use of housing is where the waiter at your favorite restaurant sleeps after a long day carrying heavy trays in and out of a hot kitchen, as a source of privacy and contemplation for you nanny and the medical staff waiting for you in the event of an accident, such as returning home from the cashier at the supermarket, the ticket office at the ferry terminal, the secretary at your doctor’s office or police station.

For those who own more housing than they need, housing is a commodity; For people with inadequate housing, housing is something to beg from others. When someone views real estate as a commodity valued more highly than its occupants, that person is making a business decision where rewards come with risks.

On Sept. 12, Mayor Glaser offered to amend the proposed ban to allow current owners to reapply for permits for non-residential short-term rental units “until the property is sold, changes hands, or a permit is otherwise not renewed.” ”

It’s a pretty meaty bone to throw at the Indiana folks, who pay the city about $67,000 in taxes for the privilege of owning an estimated $2.75 million on Samoset Road.

Shlomit Auciello is a writer, photographer, and human ecologist based in Midcoast, Maine, since 1988. Letter From Away has been in print and online since 1992 and is published weekly here.

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