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Governor’s Address: We must help keep the elderly in their own homes

We need to treat our elderly with respect and let them keep their dignity. And we must let them keep their homes.

I have submitted a bill to protect the elderly from tax lien foreclosures. It would protect elderly Mainers on fixed incomes from losing the equity in their home when they have trouble keeping up with ever-rising property taxes.

Last year, I learned about an elderly couple who lost their home through the tax lien foreclosure process. The husband is a disabled veteran and the wife is a former nurse with health issues. The couple was living on social security and fell behind on their property taxes. The town foreclosed on the home they had lived in for 33 years. The couple was evicted and the property sold for $6,500.

Maine law provides for an automatic municipal tax foreclosure process. When a homeowner does not pay back taxes within 18 months of the property-tax lien, the town automatically forecloses and the home becomes property of the town.

As Frank D’Alessandro of Pine Tree Legal Assistance testified in support of my bill, “There is no court hearing. The town takes the home and its entire value – whether the home is worth $50,000 or $150,000 – regardless of the amount of taxes owed. The town can then legally keep any amount that the house sells for, regardless of how much is owed in taxes. This is true if the homeowner owes $200 or $2,000 in back taxes.”

He provided another disgraceful example where a homeowner, whose total income was just $735 a month, owed approximately $8,000 in back taxes on a home worth about $60,000. The town foreclosed and sold the home for the amount owed in taxes – to a neighbor.

The homeowner lost all her equity, approximately $50,000. If she had been allowed to sell the home, she would have paid the taxes in full from proceeds of the sale. She would have had money to pay for safe, affordable housing. Instead, she was left with nothing.

My bill would assist elderly homeowners by creating a more protective municipal tax lien foreclosure process. Specifically, it would create a pre-foreclosure process that applies to homeowners 65 and older. The goal is to ensure elderly homeowners who are unable to pay their property taxes will not lose their homes or lose the equity they have built. It prevents them from becoming homeless.

The Mayors’ Coalition and the Maine Municipal Association, which is funded with local taxpayers’ money, opposed my bill. They have no compassion for our elderly. Rather than using this bill as an opportunity to whine to the Legislature yet again about revenue sharing, they should offer proactive solutions to keep our elderly in their homes.

I was a mayor for three terms, and it was not a burden to provide good public service. Please contact your legislators and urge them to put our seniors ahead of local bureaucrats.

Thank you.

Paul LePage

Governor

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