AUGUSTA — The city’s low-income rental housing market could be in for a change with one of its biggest and longest-tenured landlords, Larry Fleury, having sold off 19 of his apartment buildings – including the prominent downtown Edwards House – containing 154 rental units.

The 57-year-old Fleury, who is keeping about a half-dozen rental properties in Augusta, said he’s going into semi-retirement from the housing business he got into when he bought his first apartment building in Augusta in 1982.

The buyers – Jim and Rebecca Henry of South Berwick, owners of Remington Street Properties – own 35 other rental properties, with some 270 units, spread around northern New England. Some of their properties are smaller, two- to three-family properties similar to the mostly older apartment buildings that made up the bulk of Fleury’s holdings in Augusta.

Jim Henry said Friday they want to build on what Fleury started in Augusta and their goal is to make things better than they found them.

“Our goal is to come in and be good corporate citizens; we care about our tenants and buildings and their safety,” he said, noting they think Fleury did a great job caring for the properties. “Where we see an opportunity to enhance the properties and make them better, that’s what we’re going to do.

“We want to make sure everything is safe and comfortable,” Henry added. “We want a good environment for anyone who lives or works in our properties.”

He said they’ve retained all of Fleury’s former tenants in the apartment buildings they purchased in a deal that closed earlier this month.

Fleury said his business model generally was inexpensively to acquire older buildings in need of fixing up, renovate them and rent them out at affordable rates. He also sought to buy more properties in the same neighborhoods, and hold on to them for a long period of time as an investment.

“I was always able to make money in Augusta and try to provide a decent service,” Fleury said. “For me it was about being part of the community. I’d pick (buildings) up for a little less, and then you look around and see another place you can fix up and you help revive the neighborhood.”

Through his River City Realty business, Fleury tended to focus on the low-income end of the market, something he said was a niche without a huge amount of competition.

He said there were a few “troubled people” among his tenants but that 90 percent of his tenants were great people.

“They may be low-income, but I had a lot of terrific tenants who stayed many, many years,” Fleury said. “That’s the other side. They could be poor or have their problems, but they’re a lot of nice people. I’m grateful for having served them.”

Henry said they don’t have a specific economic demographic they’re targeting for their apartments, just that they plan to take what’s here now and seek to make improvements.

Fleury said the 19 properties sold for about $3 million.

Amanda Olson, executive director of Augusta Housing Authority, a quasi-municipal housing agency that oversees distribution of federal Section 8 housing vouchers, said it’s encouraging that someone has an interest in investing in housing in Augusta and fixing up apartment buildings. She said safe, affordable housing is in tight supply in the area.

“It’s really exciting someone decided to invest that much in our community. I think there is a huge opportunity here to expand the inventory of safe rental units,” Olson said. “I’m hoping these new owners will be interested in affordable and moderate-rate units, which is where I see the biggest needs in the community.”

City officials said they’ve been encouraged that the Henrys – and a property management firm working for them – already have contacted the city to inquire about making renovations to their new purchase, especially two buildings where some code violations have been a problem over the years.

City Manager William Bridgeo said any change in the rental housing market could be significant in Augusta.

“Rental housing represents about 50 percent of our housing stock, so it’s a big issue for us,” he said. “And Larry has been one of the bigger rental property owners and operators. The initial indicators are the new owners, what little I know of them, have come in with the expectation of upgrading the properties. I’m sure everyone would agree that’s a good thing.”

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