We have an affordable-housing crisis in Maine. For every family living in an affordable-housing unit, nearly three others are waiting for a home. Instead of picking up the pace, we have 2,500 federally subsidized homes in rural Maine at risk of losing their affordability restrictions, and we’re producing only about 250 new affordable units each year.

Affordable homes are critically important to many Maine communities. As the state with the oldest population in the country, our aging Mainers commonly find themselves in need of a home where paying the rent doesn’t mean giving up care or other services that support them. Maine is comprised of working-class families who are contributing to our economy but barely getting by at home. Thirty-five thousand renters in Maine now pay over half of their incomes toward housing costs, leaving very little to support their families.

By increasing the number of affordable places to live in Maine, we will also make our state more attractive to young people. People just starting their careers need to know their salaries will cover their housing costs and still allow them disposable income to build a meaningful life in our state. From every angle, affordable housing doesn’t just provide homes, it gives back to Maine’s communities and economy.

It’s clear that we have a housing problem and that addressing that problem will yield dividends for Maine. That’s why I’ve proposed two bills to help jump-start the state’s work on this issue.

The first is a bill that I just submitted and had approved to be considered when the Legislature returns in January. The bill, titled Resolve, To Establish a Commission To Increase Housing Opportunities in Maine by Studying Zoning and Land Use Restrictions, will help us identify those regulatory barriers which are driving up housing costs for Maine people.

Zoning and land-use restrictions are an important tool for regulating growth and ensuring that communities grow responsibly. They can sometimes, however, be used in an excessively strict way that creates an undersupply of homes, which increases prices. The commission created by my bill will dig into this issue and consider ways that municipalities can be aided in better addressing their local housing needs.

The second bill is one I proposed last year and that was carried over to the second session of our 129th Legislature. L.D. 1645 is a proposal supported by a bipartisan group of legislators to create a Maine Affordable Housing Tax Credit program.

This program would create nearly 1,000 additional affordable homes over eight years, increasing Maine’s current rate of production by 50 percent. At the same time, it would preserve over 500 rural homes that will soon be at risk of losing their affordability as federal support expires. Both elements of the initiative will create jobs statewide in the construction, engineering and design sectors.

The program would encourage individual or corporate taxpayers to invest in affordable housing by providing a refundable credit on state income taxes. Credits would be capped at $10 million per year for the next eight years. This program would also leverage an equal amount of federal low-income housing tax credits – dollars that would not flow to Maine without the state resources proposed in the Maine Affordable Housing Tax Credit program.

This idea is modeled after laws in more than a dozen other states that already have similar affordable-housing tax credits, including Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut. The credit also mirrors Maine’s own successful Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit and was crafted with the help of the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition, contractors around the state, engineers, mayors and more. This is an idea that makes sense, that works and that can make an immediate difference in our state.

With the initial support we’ve seen for this issue across the Legislature, I’m hopeful that we can push effective legislation through when we get back to work in January. Mainers need help with housing now. We can’t afford to wait.

 


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