A legislative committee voted 8-3 on Wednesday to approve a scaled-back version of an affordable housing bill, resulting in a compromise that home-rule defenders still denounce as big government and reformers say no longer goes far enough to resolve Maine’s housing crisis.

“When you work a bill of this magnitude, you find out some things you’ve got to change,” said Sen. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, who voted in favor of the bill. “Everybody is upset, which means it was a good compromise.”

The amended bill has sparked a debate over the state’s role in addressing the housing shortage. Housing is usually managed at the local level, through municipal zoning and land-use boards, but the lack of housing is contributing to statewide problems, especially workforce shortages.

The bill, introduced by House Speaker Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, would offer municipalities the grants and technical assistance needed to review their land-use rules, which smaller towns have said they couldn’t afford on their own.

But it still includes a handful of state mandates – requiring towns to allow accessory dwelling units and fourplexes wherever single-family homes are allowed – that worries some communities.

The Maine Municipal Association came out against the original bill, which banned municipal growth caps and created a statewide housing permit appeals board. In response, Fecteau cut those. MMA liked the changes, but not enough to reverse its position.


“Municipal officials remain concerned with the approaches promoted in the amended version,” said MMA communications director Kate Dufour. “Key among the municipal concerns is the erosion of regulatory and decision-making authority, as well as the one-size-fits all approach.

That opinion was echoed by the three Republican lawmakers who voted against the bill Wednesday.

“While I appreciate the effort, it’s very hard to vote for something that I think still goes a little too far encroaching on municipal ordinances and on a municipality’s ability to develop their comprehensive plan in the way they want to grow,” said Rep. Joshua Morris, R-Turner.

Reformers such as the Maine People’s Alliance weren’t happy, either, calling the bill a lost opportunity.

“With home prices having spiraled out of control in the last couple years, owning is a pipe dream for most people who aren’t sitting on a pile of cash,” said policy director Cate Blackford. “This state will continue to lose people and those who remain here will continue to suffer if we don’t fix this.”

The bill, L.D. 2003, would allow construction of four-unit dwellings and accessory dwelling units where a single-family is allowed. They would face the same regulatory hurdles that single-family homes do, such as setback requirements, wastewater tie-ins or parking.


Fourplexes wouldn’t be allowed in approved subdivisions. On already developed lots, owners could add two accessory dwelling units in addition to the existing unit, bringing the total number of units to households to three.

The programs included in the amended bill will cost Maine about $3.5 million a year to implement.

The amended bill would no longer be emergency legislation. That means it only requires a simple majority to pass, not two-thirds in both houses, and would go into effect three months after the Legislature adjourns, not immediately upon being signed by Gov. Janet Mills.

A red-hot real estate market is contributing to the affordable housing shortage in both cities and rural areas in Maine. According to the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition, one in five Maine renters spends more than half of their income on housing.

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