FARMINGTON — When Kaitlyn Hammon was a teenager living in Farmington, she remembers a time when it was easy to find housing in Farmington: ads in the newspaper, rental signs lining the street her grandparents live on near downtown. Today, many locals say that finding housing is a battle.

In Farmington, Maine: Rants, Raves & News, a Facebook community posting board, housing inquiries are met with “good luck”s and complaints of how difficult the search now is.

Hammon moved back to Farmington from Idaho in June with her husband and three children to help care for her grandparents. In the months preceding her move and since, she has been unable to find a rental.

Hammon says she’s applied for six properties in Farmington and multiple others in the surrounding region. None have panned out.

“People kept saying that there’s too many people looking and not enough people renting,” Hammon said. “We were always next on the list, I guess. But nothing ever came up, any of it.”

She’s currently living with her parents, children and husband in a four bedroom house in Chesterville – much too small for eight individuals, she says.

Hammon’s troubles seem to be average. A post on the community page inquiring about housing difficulties in Farmington was met with much interest, complaints and concerns. Many folks have turned to campers with fears of what the winter holds for them.

In every conversation for this article, the question “why” was met with fingers pointed at Farmington’s solar farm project. The $110 million project off Route 2 is owned by NextEra on 490 acres and began work in July 2020.

Wanzek, the contractor who is building the farm, has hired over 300 out-of-state employees for the site, according to a former Wanzek employee who asked to remain anonymous. These 300 workers have filled any available housing, be it hotels or rental properties, according to the Wanzek employee who stopped working for the company this summer.

With that many employees in town temporarily, they’ve taken up all the rentals. Leaving nothing else for locals. Or perhaps even college students,” they said. “People rented everything that they could.

“And then usually if somebody did leave the project, they already had somebody else in mind that they worked with, a coworker, that they gave the landlord, you know, ‘hey I’m leaving but this person wants to take it over.'”

This former employee said that only five to six local people are working on the project, though Wanzek “certainly tried to hire local” and couldn’t find anyone.

Bonnie Chapman, owner of property management company Chapman Family Rentals, says that demand for housing in Farmington is “incredibly high” and has never been this competitive in the 38 years she’s worked as a landlord.

This past year, she only had four vacancies in all of the six properties she owns that can house around 50 to 60 tenants. In a normal year, she’d have 10 to 12 vacancies.

“I have never seen it like this,” Chapman said. “I think we are in a housing crisis.”

Chapman believes Farmington’s housing market was “steady until the pandemic hit” and work on the solar farm began.

Now, all of her vacancies are “snatched up right away” and because of the pandemic, current tenants are hesitant to leave.

“I keep telling people, “I’m sorry I don’t have anything available,” Chapman said.

Alaina Broderson, who moved to Farmington in June 2020, believes that this higher demand has not only made available housing rarer, but also made it more costly.

Broderson also had difficulty finding a permanent living situation and spent the first few months in Farmington living with a family who temporarily offered their space.

Upon finding an apartment in October, Broderson was grandfathered into the pre-existing lease and planned to renew it the next year. In March 2021, Broderson was informed that her rent was going to be increased by $300 per month. A month later, her landlord informed her he had rented the apartment out already — breaking their “verbal agreement” — and that she’d need to be out by the end of the lease in June.

“There’s another component of just greed to it, wanting and being able to get higher prices because the demand is there,” Broderson said. “It shuts out people that are not able to afford those high prices and over inflates the market value of the properties around here.”

Broderson spent another three months “feverishly looking” for a new living situation and was able to find housing through word of mouth after community members “rallied” around her.

“I was fortunate to create some networks … but a lot of people can’t do that and I feel for the people that are still searching for housing right now,” Broderson said.

There may be an end in sight for Farmington’s housing crisis. It’s merely a matter of when the project ends and the out-of-state workers leave.

The anonymous source says that the project was set to end in September, however, it’s looking likely that the project will continue through the winter.

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