It appears that the satisfaction over passage of the statewide senior affordable housing bond last November (Question 2 on the 2015 state ballot) will be short-lived. Though the bond was approved months ago, the housing bond funds that were earmarked for older Mainers in need of affordable housing have yet to be released.

Maine State Housing Authority is waiting for a nod from Gov. LePage. Meanwhile, older, vulnerable Mainers, many who have been waiting for years, continue to wait for a home they can afford.

Maine’s senior housing shortage is at a crisis point. Nearly 9,000 older Mainers are waiting for affordable housing options in their communities. Some are being told that the wait will be at least five years. The housing bond would allow communities to begin to address the dire need; it is just the first step.

Survey after survey shows that Mainers want to remain in the homes and communities they love as they grow older. Housing determines a sense of community. It also affects an individual’s quality of life, access to health care, transportation and other vital services and one’s ability to age gracefully and independently.

NEED FOR AFFORDABILITY

The housing bond will begin to enable more Mainers to age in their own homes by funding the construction of new, affordable homes for older Mainers and the dedication of funds to home repair and weatherization of existing homes, some of the oldest in the country.

With its passage, the senior affordable housing bond authorized the sale of $15 million in general obligation bonds, to be used in combination with more than $22 million in leveraged funds, for the construction of about 225 affordable, highly energy-efficient homes for Maine’s seniors in targeted locations across the state, prioritizing Maine’s rural communities. The new units will be designed to be safe, accessible and affordable for older Mainers.

We cannot stress enough that housing affordability is an issue of paramount concern to older Maine residents. In “A Portrait of Wellbeing: The Status of Seniors in Maine,” a report issued in January by the John T. Gorman Foundation and the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey School of Public Policy, the following is noted:

“Housing affordability is especially relevant for seniors, many of whom are living on fixed incomes. Seniors in homes where a substantial proportion of income is spent on housing have less money to spend on other necessities, like transportation, food, or out-of-pocket medical expenses.”

Further, in an article published in 2015, UNH’s Carsey School reported that about 10.2 percent of Mainers over age 55 are classified as poor under the supplemental poverty measure, which accounts for expenses like transportation and medical care as well as regional differences in housing costs.

It is essential that the housing bond funds be released for their intended purpose so we can start to address these critical issues for our most vulnerable residents.

The people of Maine strongly supported this investment in housing for low-income seniors, with close to 70 percent voting in support of the housing bond. Now it is time to act.

NO REASON TO DELAY

Last year, a broad coalition of more than 150 organizations, including aging and housing advocates, developers and construction workers, came together to pass bipartisan legislation and then took the issue to the voters.

The governor must take action on behalf of the people of Maine. From Fort Kent to Kennebunk, people are looking for housing they can afford so they can remain in their own communities as they age.

They should not have to keep waiting. Without action, the shortfall of affordable housing will grow to more than 15,000 by 2022.

High housing costs force millions of low-income older adults to sacrifice spending on other necessities including food, undermining their health and well-being.

In fact, 37 percent of those age 80 and over pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing.

The people of Maine spoke last November and overwhelmingly approved the housing bond measure. There is no reason to delay the release of the funds.

We call upon Gov. LePage to release them immediately. Too many of our most vulnerable neighbors and loved ones are waiting for affordable housing, and that is simply unacceptable.