Maine has an affordable housing crisis.

Susan Deschambault

In 2019, Maine had a homeless population of 2,106, which was the 11th highest homelessness rate in the United States. This was even before the COVID-19 pandemic, which was a period of economic hardship for many who lost their jobs or even loved ones to the deadly virus. Although the pandemic is receding, more than 30,000 renters statewide are paying more than half of their incomes on housing costs, and more than 70,000 renters spend more than a third of their incomes on housing costs.

Additionally, Maine has a shortage of over 19,000 rental homes that would be affordable and available for low-income renters. Here in York County, while the median home price increased by 35 percent from 2015 to 2019, the median income increased by only 13.5 percent. It’s clear, then, that we have an affordable housing crisis.

Indeed, with statistics like these, we, as a community and in the Legislature, must take action.

That’s why, this year, I sponsored LD 953, “An Act To Improve Affordable Housing Options and Services To Address Homelessness.” I worked closely with the city of Biddeford, Department of Economic and Community Development, Maine Affordable Housing Coalition and Maine State Housing Authority to address the housing affordability crisis, which impacts our city, county and state. The legislation adjusts the tax increment financing tool to make it easier and more financially feasible for municipalities to fund local affordable housing projects.

As proud as I am of that bill, which Gov. Janet Mills signed into law on June 17, my colleagues and I in the Legislature didn’t stop there. On Monday, July 19, we voted on LD 1733, “An Act To Provide Allocations for the Distribution of State Fiscal Recovery Funds,” which decides where the state of Maine will invest nearly $1 billion from the federal American Rescue Plan Act in our community’s and our state’s recovery.

Among many priorities, including childcare, economic development, the environment and public health, we’re also making significant investments in affordable housing programs. LD 1733 allocates $50 million to support affordable workforce housing, planned by a partnership with the Department of Economic and Community Development and Maine State Housing Authority. Of that $50 million investment, $20 million will go toward a pilot program that uses project labor agreements, which is based upon LD 1656, “An Act To Energy-efficient Affordable Housing.”

Next, some of the federal ARPA funds will authorize the Maine State Housing Authority to refinance Part E housing bonds, which will provide $32 million for affordable housing projects, totaling 200 units annually. An additional $10 million will support efforts to address homelessness in the state.

As your representative, I am deeply committed to addressing the most pressing challenges of our time, and finding commonsense solutions to start to resolve them. Everyone deserves a home, where they can enjoy security and stability, raise their families, or take care of a senior parent.

It’s an honor to represent you in Augusta. If you have any questions about the bills we passed this year, or have an idea for a piece of legislation you think would benefit Mainers, please reach out to me. You can contact me via email at [email protected] or call my office at 207- 287-1515.

Susan Deschambault is the senator for Senate District 32, that includes Alfred, Arundel, Biddeford, Dayton, Kennebunkport and Lyman.

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