Housing Navigator will connect renters and landlords in Presque Isle

2 years ago

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Presque Isle Housing Authority executive director Jennifer Sweetser is working on a plan to bridge the gap between tenants looking for apartment rentals and landlords.

Sweetser is screening applicants for the Housing Navigator Program — the state’s two-year pilot program — as part of a $155,000 federal grant awarded to the Maine Housing Authority through the Maine Jobs and Recovery Plan. Sweetser plans to develop a landlord network, using Housing Navigator, to filter information on available rental housing in Presque Isle and Aroostook County, which will be conveyed through a monthly newsletter and quarterly meetings. 

The best way for people to find apartment rentals in Presque Isle is through word of mouth, which is inefficient for both potential renters and landlords. And although the Central Aroostook Chamber of Commerce maintains a list of landlords, there are not enough rental units to meet the high demand by locals or people moving to the area.

“It falls into the characteristic of our landlords, most of them have under five units maybe 10, so you don’t have openings all the time and you get 50 phone calls but for the four units that you have over, and over, and over because your name is on that list,” Sweetser said.

The Housing Navigator engages with landlords where rent vacancy is low and encourages them to rent to families experiencing or at risk of homelessness. The program is partnered with the Homeless Regional Response Service Hub — with Aroostook County Action Program being awarded a contract as a service hub coordinator — Public Housing Authority, Community Action Agency, and Homeless Liaisons, according to Maine Housing Navigator contracts.

The Central Aroostook Chamber of Commerce has a listing of landlords, but landlords are reluctant to give out their names because there are more people looking for housing than there are available units to rent, Sweetser said.

There are 33 landlords listed on the Chamber of Commerce website, which is just a courtesy to provide people visiting or living in the area some housing options. The list indicates the number of apartment units but not how many are available.

With no central housing database in the city, the Presque Isle Housing Authority is working with 70 landlords who have rental units. Those landlords have a total of 35 one-bedroom apartments, 27 two-bedroom apartments, six three-bedroom apartments and one four-bedroom apartment.

“[The Presque Isle Housing Authority] would be a resource for landlords to help better tenant relations, better quality of housing, better availability and better screening practices,” Sweetser said.

The Presque Isle Planning Board had proposed a Residential Rental Registration Ordinance for landlords to register apartments, houses and short-term rentals they have available. Those units would be subject to regular inspection to assure they are maintained in sanitary conditions. 

The Planning Board’s ordinance proposal received stiff opposition by landlords at the City Council meeting on July 15, 2021. It was tabled and it has not come up since.

There has been a nationwide boom in housing sales with Aroostook County and Presque Isle seeing buyers come in and put pressure on the market for both housing sales and rentals, according to Leigh Smith, real estate associate for RE/MAX County.

“With that there are probably more listings coming available as a general whole in the area, which would mean more options to buy versus six or 12 months ago,” Smith said.

The housing market peaked from a tighter market with more buyers than sellers over last summer, and is beginning to shift back to a more normal market due to the mortgage interest rates doubling over the last year.

Aroostook County has a balanced real estate market with no wild spikes or declines like in metropolitan areas, Smith said.

Maine Housing Authority has a housing search locator but only four apartment rental complexes currently come up in Presque Isle. The city’s Housing Authority has 25 renters who have section 8 housing choice — or low income — vouchers but can’t find places to live. The Housing Authority has given out  approximately 175 section 8 housing choice vouchers.

The Legislature has put together a centralized waiting list for section 8 housing online called affordablehousing.com.