WATERBORO – This is my 40th year building single-family and multifamily housing in Maine. During this time period, zoning and land-use regulations have become overly restrictive, especially as they may apply to multifamily and rental housing.

The current debate over soaring construction costs for rental units that are subsidized by the Maine State Housing Authority provides an opportunity to evaluate the impact of the 1970s exclusionary zoning and restrictive land-use regulations.

From 1980 to 2010, about 270,000 single-family housing units and 27,000 multifamily units were built in Maine. However, of even more significance, 18,000 of these multifamily units were built between 1980 and 1990, and only 9,000 units were built in the 20-year period from 1990 to 2010.

The Maine State Housing Authority has a list of 6,500 families in need of affordable housing. A 20-year annual average of only 450 new multifamily units per year has resulted in a crisis for these families and Maine’s economy. Employers need affordable housing to help expand and/or locate their businesses in Maine.

Gov. LePage hopes to start a program that rewards business-friendly towns. Unless a town has rental and/or affordable housing, it can never be called a business-friendly town.

I believe the lack of affordable housing is self-inflicted because towns have been allowed to use large-lot zoning to make it economically impossible to build multifamily and/or rental housing in their communities.

Many Maine communities have zoned their undeveloped areas with minimum lot sizes of 2 or 3 acres per unit, and the 1-acre or half-acre zones are either too small in area or are built out.

There is no room left to propose a 20-unit-plus multifamily development. How can multifamily developers provide affordable housing if they have to buy 8 acres or 12 acres to build a four-unit apartment?

State Treasurer Bruce Poliquin recently said: “We all know there’s a lot of rural property in Maine. It would be wise for our board (Maine State Housing) to embrace affordable housing in parts of the state other than downtown areas.”

I challenge Treasurer Poliquin to first find those communities that want affordable housing. I have observed a very strong reluctance by most communities to encourage housing, especially rental and multifamily.

In the 1970s and ’80s, communities began adopting restrictive zoning to slow down the growth of their K-12 school population, in an attempt to shift the growth to their neighboring communities.

These regulations are still in effect and promote a homogeneous housing stock of single-family units, while multifamily rental units have become a smaller percent of the housing stock over the past 30 years.

In 1980, multifamily housing made up 26 percent of the total Maine housing stock. This had dropped to 20 percent by 2010.

In York County, according to the 2010 census, six of the 29 communities provide 70 percent of the rental units in the county. There is a rental housing crisis in Maine, and communities should receive fewer state dollars until they remedy these inequities.

Vacant land zoned for multifamily housing is basically nonexistent, and Maine State Housing has been forced to renovate abandoned commercial or public buildings on which others could not justify the renovations’ costs.

Renovating an existing building to meet today’s building codes has become cost-prohibitive. State and federal subsidies have enabled Maine State Housing and nonprofit developers to renovate these buildings. However, with renovation costs now exceeding twice the cost of building new, it is time to focus these limited state and federal dollars on new construction.

Gov. LePage,Treasurer Poliquin and the Maine State Housing Authority need to develop a program that rewards communities that have land-use regulations and zoning that encourage multifamily and/or rental housing. This will result in more affordable housing and allow new neighborhoods by Maine State Housing outside of the major service centers.

Monies should be made available to help communities and developers work together to expand public water and sewer facilities. These costs could be paid back to the state, communities and developers through impact fees.

This problem can be solved by offering financial incentives to those communities that take on more than their fair share of affordable housing. This is the only way Maine can build an overall foundation for economic growth in which all levels of wage earners can participate. 

Stephen M. Kasprzak is president of Kasprzak Builders of Waterboro.