AUGUSTA — The Maine House voted 78 to 51 Thursday night in favor of a bill that supporters say will ease Maine’s affordable housing crisis, in part by allowing the construction of duplexes and accessory dwelling units on single-family house lots.

The bill’s chief sponsor, House Speaker Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, and other affordable housing advocates launched a final push Thursday to pass the bill, which would loosen local zoning restrictions to encourage more housing construction. It still faces a debate and vote in the Senate before going to Gov. Janet Mills for a signature.

Before the vote Thursday, Fecteau said that even though the legislation was scaled back considerably to address concerns about eroding local control over land use, the bill is a “huge step forward in the right direction” toward meeting the state’s housing needs.

Fecteau, in his pitch to his House colleagues Thursday night, called the legislation a compromise – just one solution aimed at keeping up with the demand for more affordable housing.

“I concede that this won’t be the silver bullet that will solve all of our (housing) challenges,” Fecteau told the House. “These efforts are expected to increase the number of affordable units in the state of Maine, empowering Mainers to contribute to solutions to the state’s housing crisis in their own backyards.”

The House vote followed a prolonged floor debate, with several Democrats saying more housing is needed for working families and for young people and retirees who can’t afford to live in the state. Some Republicans also spoke in favor, arguing the bill would restore a measure of private property rights by removing overly restrictive local zoning rules, and that it is needed to make sure Maine has the workforce required to grow the economy.


Rep. Traci Gere, D-Kennebunkport, shared the story of a local resident who wanted to build an accessory unit on her 3-acre lot so her daughter can afford to stay in Maine, but isn’t allowed to do it because of the local zoning rules.

“It is a constant problem facing so many people,” Gere said.

“Young people are being forced to leave the state for higher-paying jobs and more affordable housing,” said Rep. Grayson Lookner, D-Portland. “It is not only young people who are hit hard by this housing crisis, but people of retirement age as well.”

Rep. Bruce Bickford, R-Auburn, said the bill is needed to support the economy.

“If we want to attract business into Maine where are they going to find their employees? Are they going to attract people from out of state? And if they do, are they supposed to live in their cars?”



Some Republican members representing rural towns spoke against the bill, saying the state should not override municipal land use decisions and arguing that rules designed for more built-up communities won’t work in other parts of the state.

Rep. Joel Stetkis, R-Canaan, said parts of the bill “clearly violate the ideas of local control and home rule.”

An additional 25,000 units are needed to meet the current housing demand, Fecteau said at a news conference Thursday. The state is currently producing about 250 units a year – well short of the 1,000 units that are needed to keep up with demand, he said. The lack of supply is driving up housing costs.

“We’re seeing that in full force right now in every community across the state,” Fecteau said. “It’s not just a southern Maine issue.”

The original version of the bill would have allowed up to four units to be built on single-family home lots as long as other land use requirements were met. Under the latest version, that provision only applies to designated “growth areas” in certain communities. It was not clear Thursday how many communities would be affected by this change.

Single-family homeowners would be allowed to build in-law apartments, or accessory dwelling units – a proposal most likely to benefit family caregivers or older Mainers looking to downsize their housing while remaining in their community. And Fecteau said the bill also would allow property owners in these zones to build a two-unit building on a single-family lot.



More controversial proposals have been removed, such as eliminating a municipality’s ability to set growth caps limiting the number of new homes allowed to be built in a given year and establishing a statewide appeals board that could overrule local opposition to housing products.

The bill still includes incentives and technical assistance for municipalities trying to update their zoning codes to encourage more housing. The $3 million Housing Opportunity Program was included in the governor’s budget, which is under review by lawmakers.

And the bill would allow developers to build more housing units – a so-called density bonus – as long as a percentage of those units remain affordable for 30 years.

Jeff Levine, a consultant and lecturer of economic development and planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who served on the housing commission that recommended the local zoning changes, said in an interview that the amended version of the bill is one of the most significant housing bills in the last 20 years and puts Maine among a handful of states seeking to enact statewide zoning reform.

“Getting legislation passed is always about compromise,” he said. “A number of compromises were made here, but I think they’re compromises that don’t undermine the basic goal of the bill and hopefully address some stakeholders’ concern about the original bill.”


The Maine Municipal Association continues to oppose the bill. Supporters of the bill include the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and the AARP.

Debate over the bill has focused on two long-held values in the state – local control and private property rights. The Legislature’s Labor and Housing Committee twice reconsidered its endorsement of the proposal before finally approving it along party lines on Tuesday.

Fecteau noted that the bill no longer includes provisions opposed by the municipal association. And, he said, a series of technical changes have been made to clarify language in the bill at the association’s request.

Fecteau also said local regulations around setbacks, water resources, height and others would not be affected by the bill.


Maine Municipal Association Legislative Advocate Kate Dufour, who served on the special commission that issued the recommendations informing the bill, said the group’s message has been consistent throughout the process: Local residents and municipal officials are in the best position to regulate housing.


“Municipalities need flexibility, tools, technical assistance and incentives to implement state policy goals,” Dufour said. “Mandates and the erosion of local control are not the appropriate approaches to address housing, just as the adoption of local ordinances is not the sole contributor to the existing housing crisis. Market forces, the pandemic-related flight to Maine and inflationary costs have contributed to the housing crisis.”

Sen. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, and the Senate co-sponsor, took aim at the municipal association at a news conference at the State House.

“The MMA has become the organization of ‘no’,” Hickman said, noting limits on a municipality’s home rule authority in the state Constitution. “Home rule authority is prescribed in the Constitution and the Legislature controls it. And that is something MMA does not seem to want to understand.”

Dufour called Hickman’s remark “troubling.”

“The message being sent to the residents of Maine is that if you do not agree with those in power, you will be ridiculed,” she said. “It’s a dangerous (precedent) that could have a chilling effect on public engagement in the process.”

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey contributed to this report. 

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