Speaker Fecteau’s bill to grow affordable housing in Maine

Speaker Fecteau’s Affordable Housing Bill gets unanimous support on March 22, 2021.

A bill from Speaker Ryan Fecteau of Biddeford to pave the way for more affordable housing in Maine was introduced Monday. LD 609, “Resolve, To Establish a Commission To Increase Housing Opportunities in Maine by Studying Zoning and Land Use Restrictions would establish a commission to review barriers to producing more affordable housing in Maine

“Maine is facing an affordable housing crisis,” said Speaker Fecteau. “This bill is about cutting any red tape standing in the way of building affordable housing here in Maine. In too many municipalities, a web of various zoning and land use ordinances and state laws are preventing sensible affordable housing projects — big and small — from coming to fruition. ”

Nineteen groups and individuals testified or submitted testimony in favor of the bill, none spoke in opposition. Advocates for older Mainers, economic justice, the construction industry, realtors, and community planning all spoke in support.

“We believe this proposal will add significant value in directing land use patterns as Maine creates more housing choices for years to come. ” said Grow Smart Maine Executive Director, Nancy Smith.

“We have explored many other housing options for older Mainers, from home sharing, to small or tiny homes, to accessory dwelling units (ADUs), and think they all have their place as potential solutions,” said Jess Maurer, Executive Director of Maine Council on Aging. “All three of these potential solutions can bump up against local and state zoning and use laws and ordinances.  This is why we support this bill that proposes to convene a short term commission to examine current demand, the interrelation of state law and local regulation of housing, and find ways to encourage the development of new housing options in Maine.”

“I want to give an example of how zoning can be challenging. In Gorham, there is a mixed use-space that has 150 people working in restaurants, businesses like insurance providers, and even a wine bar. There are also 33 residential units with access to a grocery store next door and to public transportation. They are heated and cooled with efficient heat pumps,” said Matthew Marks of Associated General Contractors of Maine. “These mixed-use projects where zoning has to be changed can be complicated, not just for the developer and the contractor, but for the towns working within their own zoning guidelines. We believe this committee will provide a good deal of resources for towns, hopefully some templates.” 

“Taking into account the pandemic’s impact on available housing stock, the study is very timely, ” said Kate Dufour, Director of Maine Municipal Association. “Housing issues are no longer simply a “big city” issue.  Municipal officials in urban, suburban and rural areas alike have witnessed significant increases in both the number and value of home sales, which in turn have or will place additional property tax burdens on lifelong homeowners and impact the availability of affordable and workforce housing in our communities.”

“The problem here is that it’s simply too hard to site new housing projects in much of Maine. Zoning ordinances, most of which were developed at an earlier time, often create unintentional barriers to the kinds of housing that most communities now say they want more of: affordable multifamily and workforce housing,” said Erik Jorgensen of MaineHousing.

“We’ve got to act. This issue is urgent for our economy and workforce, not to mention the dignity of our seniors and young families with kids. But the intent is not for this commission to establish mandates for towns concerning zoning and land use. Rather, the commission will be asked to establish model policies with incentives for towns to adopt them on their own,” said Speaker Fecteau. 

According to the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition, 1 in 5 renters pay more than half their income toward housing costs. Currently, there is no county in Maine where a full-time worker earning the minimum wage can afford a typical two-bedroom apartment. This outlines a statewide problem. 

The bill was presented in a Public Hearing before the Legislature’s Labor and Housing Committee today and can be viewed on Maine’s Labor and Housing Youtube Channel. 

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