By Carol McCracken (Post # 2,286)
Prominent Eastern Promenade developer Crandall Toothaker lives a good life on Munjoy Hill. He lives in one of the larger homes on the Hill with a generous view of Casco Bay in his front yard He’s actively involved in the preservation of Ft. Allen Park and the surrounding park. He’s also known as an excellent landlord to his thousands of grateful tenants. Toothaker frequents many restaurants and eateries on the Hill – all good stuff for sure. He has a ‘squeaky clean’ image which he cultivates as carefully as his Eastern Promenade garden. To date, Toothaker has restored more than 100 buildings, including the one he lives in, although he won’t say how many more.
In February, Toothaker bought five (5) rental buildings on Wilmot Street – just several miles away in a neglected area of Portland. Nothing like Toothaker’s neighborhood. He told tenants that he intends to convert the buildings into condominiums and a townhouse for “high-society people.” Toothaker even described in detail to a tenant the floorplan for the townhouse; where the kitchen will be located, etc.
Two of the buildings were condemned just before Toothaker purchased them earlier this year. Tenants were forced out. Other tenants in the other buildings were given 30 days to vacate their apartments by Toothaker and offered incentives if they could meet that 30 day deadline. If not, those incentives were withdrawn. One guesstimate is that over a period of four months, about eighty tenants were and will be forced from their apartments. Despite efforts to relocate, some tenants simply could not find places. No surprise there.
Rather,Toothaker has sent an eviction notice to a senior woman on disability. Toothaker planned to bring in his rehab crew, but because one tenant did not move out within his 30 day deadline, he had to send his crew to another workplace. Toothaker told the tenant he was standing in the way of his restoration work by not moving out within the 30 day period. City ordinances require that developers converting to condominiums give 120 days notice to vacate to renters. A condo developer is supposed to help tenants find other housing and give them financial assistance on that displacement process; None of which Toothaker has done. It’s business as usual. But it shouldn’t be. This is not uncommon on how developers converting rental buildings into condos operate.
Uncharacteristically reticent despite several emails and a telephone call at his request, Toothaker has not offered much in a defense of his actions – saying only he won’t discuss the details and only that the 5 buildings need to be restored so he can bring them up to code. When asked whether or not he intended to convert them into high-end condos and a townhouse he did not answer. Toothaker also emailed mhn.com that it needed to have “ALL” the facts; something he was given ample opportunity to provide.
The truth is, however, that despite reports of widespread gentrification in Portland, city officials have ignored the housing crises. There are measures that could be taken to stem the conversion of rental buildings into high-end condominiums. And to assist low-income people with disabilities in relocating. Renters forced from their apartments under any circumstances when the rental availability rate is so low, (less than 1%) should be given more than 30 days to relocate. The City has been so preoccupied with encouraging new construction by focusing on zoning changes ad nauseam to accommodate builders, that it forgot the working class people in Portland.
With the Portland rental vacancy rate so low as it famously is now, developers should not be permitted to convert rental buildings to condominiums. All tenants (in good standing) displaced by condominium conversion should be provided a generous financial package to assist in moving expenses by the developer and allowed at least 120 days to relocate when the vacancy rate is so low should be the standard. The foregoing are some of the steps that could have been taken to ease gentrification. However, much of the damage to the supply of rental stock has already happened. Too little too late – intentionally? Some tenants feel betrayed by their own home town. No wonder.
Toothaker was appointed to the City’s Fire & Safety Task Force as a landlord representative in response to the fatal Noyes Street fire last November 1, 2014. No tenants were appointed to the Task Force.
Crandall Toothaker lives a good life on the Eastern Promenade. What’s wrong with this picture?
mhn.com reached out to Mayor Michael Brennan, Nick Mavodones and David Brenerman, (the latter two members of the Housing Committee for comment on what the city is doing to alleviate the situation). Only Brenerman of the three returned the email, indicating interest in the subject. Chair of the Housing Committee Kevin Donoghue did respond as well. He said that he was concerned about the lack of rental housing and it’s conversion to more expensive housing.