When you rank states by income, Maine does not make the top 10. That’s also true when you rank the states based on the lowest cost of living.

But when you rank states based on the least affordable rental housing, you’ll see Maine right up there with California, New Jersey and Massachusetts, highlighting a problem that is much worse than most Mainers understand.

According to a study by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a Maine renter would have to earn $18.73 an hour to be able to afford a typical two-bedroom apartment in the state.

But the average wage for a renter in Maine is $11.44 an hour.

That leaves a gap of $7.29 an hour, which is the ninth highest in the nation, according to the group.

Maine’s lack of affordable housing is not just a problem in some neighborhoods in Portland. It complicates life around the state for families trying to make their paycheck stretch far enough.


High rents force families to scrimp in other areas, like food and medical care. They agree to rent dangerous substandard housing because it’s all they can afford. And they are in danger of overextending financially, leading to evictions and bad credit ratings that make it even harder to find a place to live.

Frequent moves have long-term consequences for children if they have to change schools too often. In his 2016 Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Evicted,” sociologist Matthew Desmond explained that a lack of affordable housing is actually a cause of poverty, not just a consequence of it.

In Maine, it’s a multi-faceted problem that needs engagement on every level of government, in addition to the nonprofit and business sectors.

Under current conditions, it’s expensive to build multi-unit housing, so new construction tends to be high-rent units or condominiums. At the same time, older rental units are falling out of livable condition. Housing vouchers are available only for a minority of those who are eligible, so families can wait for years, living where they can.

The state should do more about this problem before it gets even worse. Eliminating the waiting lists for rental vouchers would be one positive step. So would issuing the senior housing bonds that were approved by voters, but stalled by Gov. LePage.

Cities and towns can use regulation to encourage construction of more affordable units, such as Portland’s inclusionary zoning ordinance, which requires developers to include affordable units in large projects or pay into a fund. Land use regulators can offer relief for developers who build affordable projects, relaxing height, parking and setback requirements.

This is a problem that all Mainers should pay attention to. Housing unaffordability is one top 10 list we don’t want to be on.

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