AUGUSTA — Democratic Gov. Janet Mills signed off Tuesday on a $15 million state borrowing package that was approved by voters more than three years ago and meant to bolster the state’s stock of affordable housing for senior citizens.

The bonding package was approved by voters in November 2015. Mills’ predecessor, Republican Gov. Paul LePage, refused to authorize the sale of the bonds, saying they were going to make a few people millionaires overnight, although LePage provided no proof of that. The bond sale will now go forward in June.

Mills said $500,000 would be made immediately available to help fund ongoing home repair and weatherization projects aimed at helping keep older Mainers living in their own homes safely and comfortably.

“We know we have one of the oldest housing stocks in the country and a graying population,” Mills said to an audience of about 200 people gathered at the State House. “That combination cries out for help from state government from time to time.”

The bonding package, which was supported by both Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature before being approved by voters, was meant to build 225 new housing units.

More than 9,000 low-income seniors are on waiting lists for affordable housing, according to the AARP of Maine.

“It is time we build more affordable housing for seniors just as the voters intended,” Mills said, noting that nearly 70 percent of voters approved the bonding package. “Today we proudly move forward in our goal of ensuring all Maine seniors can live safely with dignity and comfort in the homes and communities they love.”

Greg Payne, director of the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition, said they were celebrating the release of the bonds Tuesday but the funding was only a portion of what is ultimately needed.

“In normal times those voter-approved funds would have gone to work immediately. Unfortunately, the people who would benefit from this initiative were forced to wait for three years, indefensibly really, until today. Today we move forward,” Payne said to cheers and applause.

Lori Parham the state director for AARP Maine, which has 230,000 members in the state, called the occasion “joyous.”

“Affordable, accessible housing, located in livable communities and linked to health supports is in particularly short supply here in Maine and across the country,” Parham said. “Demand for these units will only increase with the baby boomers starting to turn 80 in less than a decade.”

 


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