It is strange when a weekend with more than a dozen arrests is considered “quiet,” but a weekend without a fire is a blessing around here. At 8 a.m. every Monday I go to the police station to get the police log, and it is an activity I’ve started to dread.
Living in Glen I miss most of what happens in Berlin on the weekend unless it’s a scheduled event I’m planning to cover. So usually the police log is my first encounter with the weekend’s destruction. I meet Craig Lyons from the daily paper just inside the station, and he usually already has the weekend report for me. This weekend it was a prowler getting arrested after a foot chase. Last week it was a three story building burned. I have to say I prefer the former.
I’ve been working for the Reporter for something around seven weeks. I can’t claim to be anything close to a local, living in Glen, growing up in Maine and being born in Virginia, but the people I interact with in the city are warm, inviting and interested. I walk into stores looking for someone to talk to and often end up getting the opinion of almost everyone in the place. It has the feel of a city time forgot, and not only in a bad way. Part of my idea behind this blog is that Berlin is looking to find its way into the twenty-first century, but then there are those aspects of the city’s character where I’m sure residents don’t want to “progress.”
And progress might be Berlin’s biggest problem.
Ryan Landry, the newest city councilor (and Last Print Journalist reader, thanks Ryan) made a comment about how people from out of town were wrecking Berlin’s way of life. He made the comment when he was being interviewed by the city council for the seat he wound up filling. He said people were moving to Berlin to take advantage of the cheap rent and they were changing the character of the city.
Since then, as I’ve gone around the city having my repeated economic discussions, I’ve posed that thought to other people to see if they agree. I received an array of responses.
First, there are certainly people who agree with Mr. Landry. Several business owners on Main Street said they have had people come in and say they just moved to Berlin from Lowell, Mass., or Manchester, or Lewiston, Maine. They told the business owners their landlords raised the rent and said if they wanted to keep the rent the same they had to move to the landlord’s property in Berlin. In one part of the equation, this view is correct — people are moving here from out of state. Many of these people are on disability, according to the business owners, and they are looking to stretch their limited financial resources as far as they can go.
And who can blame them? A dollar in Berlin goes further than in almost any other city in the Northeast. Berlin is certainly seeing a migration of low income individuals, but are those people to blame?
One business owner said no, it is the landlords who are at fault. They buy properties for cheap, do the least amount of work possible to make them habitable, and then start jacking up rents to the south to speed up the migration. These out of town land owners are the ones destroying the character of the city.
But really, really, is it because of these out-of-towners that Berlin is suffering?
The police said no, it isn’t the out-of-towners that are doing all this bad stuff. They put the ratio at 50/50; 50 percent out-of-towners, 50 percent locals. They were talking about petty crime, theft, drugs and arson. This is interesting, because it is a report from the front lines about who in the lower socio-economic levels is hurting Berlin. Is it those from here, or those from away? Turns out, it’s a bit of both.
Today, however, I heard an incredibly insightful critique of higher level socio-economic sabotage in Berlin I’ve heard yet. It could be argued there is a 50/50 split between who is to blame for Berlin’s eroding character at this level too. I’m not sure this is the case, but I think it is an intriguing argument.
It goes like this:
These out of town landlords who buy these apartment buildings, what is their investment in the community? Not much. They buy an building, do a minimum of work to it and rent it out for as much as they can get. People know it is going on and blame them for the effects.
But who locally is benefiting from the sale of these properties? Who benefits from every property that sells? Who is desperate to move every apartment house they can?
The real estate agencies. The Realtors. And how many of them live in Berlin? How many commissions have the Berlin Realtors made by selling properties to out of state landlords? How much money has passed through their hands as Berlin has foundered?
Do the Realtors know when they are selling to a slumlord? Doubtful. But as the problem has grown and owners have bought more and more Berlin buildings it has become clear who the slumlords are. Could the Realtors really not know when they are selling their city’s character?
The real estate agencies seem to be oblivious, however, and continue to sell Berlin’s future for short money.
Kind of an interesting thought, it isn’t it?
So next time it isn’t a quiet weekend, think why it isn’t. Next time a building burns, or a car is broken into, or a fight breaks out, think about the 50/50 chance it is someone from Berlin. And if it’s not, maybe 50 percent of the blame for that person living here belongs in Berlin anyway. Maybe more. Interesting thought.