It is no surprise that people struggle to find affordable housing in the Biddeford area and areas around the state. In the past several years, Biddeford has received national recognition for being one of the 25 coolest cities in the United States. More young people live here than anywhere in Maine.

The increased excitement and desirability to move to Biddeford has brought people from all over Maine, and the country, to build a life here. Unfortunately, at the same time, rental and housing prices have increased, pushing out some of the workers who work at the businesses that make this city so special.

Susan Deschambault Courtesy photo

Then COVID-19 hit, exacerbating preexisting inequities. Many more families could no longer afford their rent and found themselves without a place to live. While local community organizations, city and state government officials are always striving to reduce homelessness in Biddeford and elsewhere, it is still a reality of life for some people.

This variety of factors in Biddeford made the need for change too great to overlook. That is why I sponsored the bill LD 953, “An Act To Improve Affordable Housing Options and Services To Address Homelessness,” to help tackle this problem head-on. Over the past several months, I have worked with advocates from Maine Housing Authority, Maine Affordable Housing Coalition, the city of Biddeford, the Department of Community and Economic Development, among others, to craft legislation to make it easier and financially feasible for towns and cities to support community members who are experiencing homelessness, or those who can only afford low-income housing.

By passing LD 953, municipalities could use tax increment financing to pay for affordable housing developments and housing services for people who are experiencing homelessness. Tax increment financing, also known as TIF, is a public financing tool used by municipalities to boost economic development. It uses predicted future tax revenue of a development project to fund new projects.

Essentially, Biddeford’s affordable housing development will increase revenue for the city, and they can use that increase of revenue to pay for the construction of housing and housing services for people experiencing homelessness. This innovative solution does not create any added burden on the taxpayer, because Biddeford does not need to raise any money to fund these projects.

Of course, while Biddeford is the inspiration for LD 953, other municipalities across the state can take advantage of this strategy as well. LD 953 received unanimous approval by the Taxation Committee, and it awaits review by the full Senate and House before it can go to the governor’s desk to be signed into law.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the many Biddeford-area lawmakers and city officials who have helped me put this bill together and have been strong advocates for it from the beginning: City Manager Jim Bennett, Mayor Alan Casavant, Speaker of the House Ryan-Fecteau (D-Biddeford) and Representatives Tracy Gere (D-Kennebunkport) and Erin Sheehan (D-Biddeford). Thank you.

Susan Deschambault represents Senate District 32, Alfred, Arundel, Biddeford, Dayton, Kennebunkport and Lyman. She can be reached at 207-287-1515 or [email protected]

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