LD 1645, “An Act To Create Affordable Workforce and Senior Housing and Preserve Affordable Rural Housing,” is a bipartisan bill carried over from last year and is being considered by the Legislature. It would fund a $20 million annual affordable housing tax credit, which, over its four-year span, could help pay for 250 new units a year, or about 1,000 homes, approximately doubling the new low-income homes being built in Maine. It is a statewide initiative as 30% of the credit allocated to new housing units is targeted for seniors and 20% is targeted for rural areas.

The need for this program is clear as there are over 32,000 low-income Maine families on the waiting list for affordable housing. Last year over 4,000 households applied for an affordable home at the state’s largest nonprofit housing agency, but only 373 received help. More than 35,000 Maine renter households are severely rent-burdened, paying over half their income for rent and utilities.

The urgency, however, goes far beyond the raw numbers. Housing insecurity, including unsustainable housing costs, poor housing quality, overcrowding and/or homelessness, has been shown to relate strongly to a variety of negative consequences for both children and adults. Without stable housing, children’s school attendance and performance often suffer due to frequent moves, inconsistent family or caregiver schedules, and lack of reliable transportation. Last November, the University of Michigan’s Poverty Solutions released a study finding that housing instability is by far the greatest predictor of students’ chronic absenteeism from school. The authors indicated that students who are chronically absent are less likely to meet grade-level standards and more likely to drop out of school. They recommend making greater investments in affordable housing to combat housing instability and ensure stable, affordable homes for vulnerable families.

According to a 2016 article in Social Problems, there also is evidence that housing insecurity impacts employment. Workers facing eviction and/or enduring forced moves may, due to the emotional stress of seeking housing and longer commutes, have an increased likelihood of tardiness, absenteeism and impaired work performance which, in turn, leads to job loss.

Because many families can afford only substandard housing, health issues may arise related to the presence of lead, asbestos or other toxins. Additionally, when allocating too much of household income to housing costs, other critical needs, such as food and medical care for both children and adults may be neglected, potentially affecting the ability to go to school or work.

In many cases, seniors, who rely on fixed incomes, forgo the basics and may be the most seriously impacted. Boston Medical Center’s Children’s HealthWatch indicated “When families don’t have stable housing, their risk of struggling with poor health outcomes and material hardships, such as food insecurity, increases.” According to their research, we all pay for this in that they estimate that housing instability will cost the healthcare industry around $111 billion over the next decade.

In summary, providing access to secure and affordable housing allows low-income families to direct their resources more optimally for food, medical care, transportation and other basic needs, potentially reducing the long-term societal costs associated with neglected healthcare and unemployment, and improving school and work attendance. For these reasons, LD 1645 has been recognized as a critical priority by the Thrive2027 Council, an initiative comprised of area business, education and nonprofit leaders and led by the United Way of Greater Portland. With these implications in mind, as a Thrive2027 Council member, I would urge you to encourage your legislators to pass and fully fund LD 1645.

Jim Elkins
Career Planning Services
South Portland