As the recent home foreclosure and eviction of an elderly Albion couple draws more attention statewide, Gov. Paul LePage says a bill to prohibit municipalities from foreclosing in such cases will likely go before the state Legislature within the next several weeks.
LePage worked on the bill after the town of Albion foreclosed on the home of Richard and Leonette Sukeforth, both 80, and sold the property in a sealed bid auction. The new owner bid just $500 more than a Sukeforth family friend and then evicted the couple last month.
“I just think it was really bad public policy,” LePage said in a phone interview last week. “I suggest the town fathers in Albion should take care of their constituents. Their job is public service, and public servants don’t throw people on the street.”
What started as a local foreclosure dispute has quickly transformed into an issue with implications across Maine, with the governor seizing on the matter as a symbol of the need for government to look out for the state’s elderly and impoverished residents.
At a town hall-style forum Wednesday night attended by 150-plus people at Biddeford Middle School, LePage responded to an audience question about the Albion home foreclosure. He summarized what his proposed bill would do and advised anyone who lives on a fixed income and owns a home to take out a small home equity loan from a bank in case of foreclosure.
The governor also said he received a letter recently from someone who claimed LePage didn’t know the whole story and that Richard Sukeforth had “been a pain in the butt in town for 20 years.”
By all accounts, the foreclosure was done legally, but LePage maintains it was unethical. The rundown house, located at 180 Marden Shore Road on Lovejoy Pond off China Road, is essentially a small camp. A Sukeforth neighbor and the family tried to buy the property back for the couple after the foreclosure, but town officials denied the request.
The Kennebec County town had never foreclosed on properties before three years ago, and the Sukeforth foreclosure was the first in which people were actually living in the house at the time of foreclosure, according to Albion Town Clerk Amanda Dow. That’s a fact LePage pointed to during the town hall forum.
Dow said the town had to follow foreclosure laws, and Albion has a provision that allows a person to pay their taxes in full six months after automatic foreclosure, but Sukeforth, a National Guard and Marine veteran, did not do that. Dow said the town sent a letter, a selectman went to visit him and explained the process, but he still did not take action.
Family members say they think it is because he is in the early stages of dementia, and had they known he had not paid his taxes, they would have done so. Leonette Sukeforth is frail and suffers from diabetes.
LePage’s bill, which has been drafted and is being fine-tuned before heading to the Legislature, is intended to ensure such foreclosures do not occur.
Since a story about the Sukeforth case was published in the Morning Sentinel, Kennebec Journal and Maine Sunday Telegram on Jan. 8, LePage said he has learned of a dozen similar situations around the state in which elderly people have been forced from their homes. “It’s primarily people who own their homes outright,” he said.
His bill would require steps to be taken by the municipality before foreclosure, such as discussing reverse mortgage, tax abatement or an agreement where, if the homeowner has no mortgage, the municipality applies a lien on the property for taxes owed, lets the people live in the house until they die and then sells it.
LePage had been working on trying to find assisted living care for the Sukeforths, but their daughter, Yvette Ingalls, said she believes it’s best for them to continue to live with her. They will have been married 58 years in May, she said.
The state pays for a home health aide to come in from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday to care for her mother, Leonette, who is weak and becomes dizzy often, Ingalls said. She said she thinks her mother’s spirits are better than they were after she was evicted from her home of 33 years because she is around family in a warm home where she is fed three meals a day.
Ingalls works as a cook at a rehabilitation center. The middle child of the Sukeforths’ five children, she hopes LePage’s bill to protect elderly people from foreclosure is successful. Hopefully others in a similar situation will not endure the same trauma, she said.
“What we’ve come to conclude is that we’re just a stepping stone to open it up so other people don’t go through this,” she said.
Amy Calder can be contacted at 861-9247 or at: