FROM LEFT, former legislator Seth Berry, Rep. Brian Hobart, R-Bowdoinham, and Rep. Mark Eves, Speaker of the House of Representatives, D-North Berwick, listen to questions and ideas from residents during the forum held by Eves on his Keep ME Home initiative.

FROM LEFT, former legislator Seth Berry, Rep. Brian Hobart, R-Bowdoinham, and Rep. Mark Eves, Speaker of the House of Representatives, D-North Berwick, listen to questions and ideas from residents during the forum held by Eves on his Keep ME Home initiative.

BOWDOINHAM

Residents attending an aging forum Tuesday night learned about a proposed $65 million affordable senior housing bond and other measures being proposed to help Maine seniors age gracefully in their own communities.

Mark Eves, Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives, conducted the forum on his Keep ME Home bond proposal for affordable senior housing. The event took place at the Bowdoinham town office and was sponsored by the Bowdoinham Housing Group.

“Bowdoinham is an aging friendly community but we want to be more so, and that’s really what this conversation is about,” said event moderator Seth Berry, a Bowdoinham resident and former legislator.

There is a bipartisan aging caucus at the State House and legislators from all parties are at the table all pushing in the same direction Eves said Tuesday to a room full of residents.

“Part of what we’re trying to do is really elevate this profile,” he said. “Maine is the oldest state in the nation. Fifty people turn 65 years old every day, so we are on the leading edge, kind of at the epicenter, of what is happening to our country and really, world, as we all live longer (with) the remarkable things in health care has done for us. It is really an opportunity I see for Maine to really be a leader in this area.”

After he was selected Speaker just over two years ago, Eves said he was asked to lead the initiative by members of the Maine Council on Aging.

“I’ve had the privilege of traveling around the state hearing a lot of personal stories that continue to drive me to make sure that we do something significant here; finish something this session that we started in the Keep ME Home proposal.”

Five work groups were formed to tackle aging issues: Public and private safety, higher education, wellness and health care, aging friendly communities dealing mostly with housing an transportation, and workforce and employment. The work is leading communitybased initiatives too.

The Keep ME Home initiative was announced last summer Eves said, and contains three proposals, including the $65 million housing bond to create 1,000 affordable senior housing units in all 16 counties.

“You think about 1,000 and you’d think that’s a lot but it’s a drop in the bucket,” he said. “The identified need right now of seniors on wait lists is 9,000.”

And the need will grow. As proposed in LD 1205, the bond would leverage an estimated $100 million in private and other funds.

The second proposal is property tax relief for seniors on fixed incomes who are at risk of getting priced out of their homes as property taxes continue to rise.

The third proposal targets the direct care workforce “that is stretched thin, that is underpaid, that hasn’t had a raise in probably over 20 years,” Eves said. The plan is to ensure there is a welltrained, well-qualified workforce, needed to keep people living in their homes as long as the can.

The first question Eves fielded was about the likelihood of the $65 million housing bond passing. While Gov. Paul LePage has been supportive of the idea, Eves said he has been concerned about the funding mechanism.

But Eves believes the need to do something now is evident.

Corey Troup of Bowdoinham praised the affordable senior housing bond.

“I’m a person that usually votes down 90 percent of the bonds,” he said. “This one here is a beautiful idea,” because it provides a way for people, who have paid taxes their whole lives and followed the rules, to stay in their homes.

It is a self-generating economy, too, Troup added, if done right.

“You’re creating a demand for these occupations and for higher learning for some of these positions,” he said.

Eves heard many other ideas from residents, such as expanding the in-house programs for veterans and utilizing large old homes in communities for senior housing rather than building new. He also heard about the stringent criteria caregivers face to get help with an aging parent with dementia.

Lynn Spiro works with the town’s senior housing group and talked about a senior adult community she recently visited in her home state.

“I don’t necessarily like the idea of shoving our seniors into an apartment complex,” Spiro said. In this community, prices were capped, affordable, and “people got to own their own places and there’s some pride and dignity and some self-esteem in that.”

Eves acknowledged that concern.

“One of the challenges that we have is making sure that we don’t segregate; that we don’t isolate,” he said. “If we have to build (housing) in the way that we are, then how do you go to great lengths to make sure that those individuals are part of the community.”

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