In recent years, Maine has become a haven for people fleeing conflict and violence in their home nations. Naturally, it would be ideal if there simply were no wars or famines and no one ever in such a situation. However, life is often hard and so I think it is wonderful that we are offering a safe welcome.

Brunswick resident Heather D. Martin wants to know what’s on your mind; email her at [email protected]

From a humanitarian standpoint, it feels correct to help in ways we are able. It seems the moral way to be.

From a selfish standpoint, our own lives are made immeasurably richer by the addition of new traditions, foods and languages within our community. We become better.

At the same time, it must also be acknowledged that there are some challenges as well. They don’t outweigh the positives, but if we don’t think about them, we can’t find a solution.

The most obvious problem? Housing.

Anyone who has gone apartment hunting – or heaven help you, house hunting – knows that the market in Maine is bonkers right now. Rents are high and stories of buyers making “cash offers over asking” abound.

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Into this crazy situation, we are placing new residents who require housing with access to transportation, infrastructure and a variety of community supports – the same things everyone else is looking for in a community, too. Cities are the obvious choice, but the cities are full and feeling the strain. Portland in particular is feeling stretched too thin.

However, our cities might not need to be the go-to.

Thanks to our new culture of remote working, job opportunities are expanded geographically. Our rural communities have the space, the need (and sometimes even unoccupied housing) but not the necessary infrastructure.

Which makes me wonder …

What would happen if the state were to launch a series of “community-living projects”? Picture, if you will, a series of small, easy-to-heat, low-maintenance homes built around a central courtyard with shared communal spaces. Something akin to Two Echo Cohousing in Brunswick, Ecovillage in Belfast or Island Cohousing on Martha’s Vineyard, but more so.

A certain number of the houses would be reserved for new Mainers seeking asylum. The other houses for longtime Mainers who, in exchange for a reasonable purchase price and low mortgage, would take on the role of “professional neighbors,” helping the new residents navigate the day-to-day details of their new lives: finding the grocery store, registering the kids for school, connecting them with services to make sure they have the things we all need such as transportation, clothes and the like. They would welcome them with potluck meals and see to it that they are safe.

Once the new Mainers have a sense of their new lives, maybe after a year or two, they will be assisted to find permanent housing and those homes made ready for another family just arriving.

The families who sought asylum may well choose to remain in the area they’ve come to know, making that community richer and more vibrant. The state would be able to continue offering safe haven without placing strain on our cities, and longtime Mainers would provide a path to home ownership while forging new friendships and community ties.

I am not a community planner. I am certain there are obstacles I haven’t yet thought of, but wouldn’t it be amazing if we utilized this moment of crisis/opportunity to think big and create some really innovative solutions for us all? That is a neighborhood I want to be part of.

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