Lately we’ve been hearing a lot about “wage stagnation” from presidential candidates of both major parties. Economists explain that, given the steadily rising costs of basic goods and services, the average American worker’s buying power is about the same or less than it was 35 years ago. So most of us haven’t gotten a real “raise” in decades.
We know what this means in theory, but what does it look like? To see the effect of wage stagnation firsthand, drive around the neighborhood on the eastern end of Westbrook, between Cumberland Street and the Westbrook Arterial, an area bisected by an active railroad line.
The housing stock here is typical of mill towns in post-industrial Maine. Most of the homes were built in the early-to-middle part of the last century, before the manufacturing jobs began to leave town, and haven’t been updated since. Why? Because if you haven’t had a real raise, you haven’t been able to save enough to build a new porch or garage. You got the roof fixed when you had to, but that meant the siding continued to suffer. You made repairs, not renovations, and some years not even repairs.
The two-unit residential building at 102 Seavey St. is one of the older homes in the area, and looks it. Most of the clapboards that haven’t come loose are hanging on for dear life, and seemingly haven’t worn a coat of paint since a humble peanut farmer from Georgia occupied the Oval Office. The curtains and blinds have been made brittle by sunbeams, the electric meters are gone, the mailboxes are covered in rust. Some of the windows are boarded up, others are blocked with boards leaning against them inside.
The structure does not look sturdy. The front porch is shored up by rickety stacks of ancient lumber. Around back, plywood is covering up what appear to be serious breaches in the brick foundation. The back porch is a storage area for old furniture and tarp-covered jetsam.
According to neighbors, the property has been in this sorry condition for many years. Dana Marcous, who moved into a place nearby a few months ago, said word on the street is that the couple who own the property are of retirement age or older, and lack either the inclination or ability to sell or renovate it.
It’s rumored that someone still lives there. Marcous said he sometimes sees a light on inside. I wasn’t able to determine if that’s true. When I called the number listed for the owners, the man on the other end hung up when I identified myself.
Aside from its appearance, Marcous said the building isn’t considered a nuisance. City officials must agree. There are no code violations for the property on file at City Hall, just some decades-old building permits.
If Bernie Sanders is elected president, this house will be restored to its former glory. Or not. Who knows? Just give us a damn raise.
— Patrick Banks