The Scarborough Housing Alliance is suggesting that the town deal with skyrocketing housing costs by changing its zoning to mandate more affordable housing.

On Tuesday night, members of the alliance told the Town Council that the town needed to take an active role in making sure there is sufficient affordable housing in town.

The alliance has been looking at affordable housing and will make recommendations on how to provide more affordable units to the council within the next month or so.

The alliance is expected to recommend a two-pronged approach to deal with the problem; the town could provide incentives to encourage the construction of affordable housing, or in some cases, it could in fact, mandate the construction of affordable housing.

Councilors heard a presentation from Bruce Mayberry, a Yarmouth consultant working with the alliance in studying the town’s housing stock and ways to encourage affordable housing construction.

Mayberry said Scarborough has the fourth highest median house price in the greater Portland area at $300,000, only behind Falmouth, Cumberland and Cape Elizabeth. That is about $100,000 more than a typical family in the region can pay for a home. In fact, based on the median house price, a family would have to earn $109,000 to be able to afford a house in town, Mayberry said.

One factor driving the increased costs is the ever-increasing sizes of homes being built in town along with larger lot sizes, Mayberry said.

Mayberry also found that there is not any affordable rental housing in Scarborough. Rental units are scarce in Scarborough, and most renters are living in single-family homes, which are more expensive than apartments. Moreover, most of these renters are paying 50 percent or more of their income in rent.

Mayberry suggested the town revamp its zoning ordinances to allow easier construction of multi-family buildings with units on top of each other, which he said are the most affordable option.

The construction of multi-family buildings did not necessarily mean an increase in school enrollment and higher taxes, Mayberry said. He said he believed the construction of standalone single-family housing created the greatest increase in school enrollment.

Mayberry said when Scarborough’s school enrollment sharply increased, there was little if any multi-family housing construction. Instead, the majority of construction was single-family homes.

The town could also perhaps try to reduce infrastructure or land costs, which could be accomplished by forming a housing authority, Mayberry suggested..

Mayberry’s recommendations are not necessarily those of the Housing Alliance, which will develop its own recommendations based on his findings.

Sue Foley Ferguson, chairman of the alliance, said the town should strive to have 20 percent of its housing be affordable. She said that would benefit the town since Scarborough is a growing business center and people that cannot afford to live here would live in outlying towns and commute everyday.

Town Council Chairman Steve Ross said the study provided figures that the council will be able to work with when discussing and making policy regarding affordable housing. Previously, it was hard to take action without information, but now Ross said the council could begin to take some more aggressive action.

Councilor Sylvia Most, who is a co-chairman of the Comprehensive Plan Update Committee, said the committee is working on altering the zoning to include more opportunities for apartments.


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