The Brunswick Town Council voted 7-1 Monday evening to approve a controversial emergency moratorium on housing development that will put a 180-day pause on the review and approval of most housing development projects.

“Developable land for housing in Brunswick is a finite resource,” said District 5 Councilor Christopher Watkinson. “It’s not something that we’ll have forever. I’d say that we’re compelled to take our time at the moment just to get this right.”

The approved moratorium is a slightly scaled-back version of the proposal that sparked 75 minutes of debate at the Council’s meeting last Tuesday. It will halt the review of projects that contain at least 30 housing units unless at least 15% of those units are reserved for households making no more than Brunswick’s area median income.

The moratorium is retroactive to June 2.

While over a dozen members of the public aired concerns last week that the moratorium would exacerbate the housing crisis by pushing away developers, several others argued those fears were overblown and outweighed by the need to ensure future projects would include affordable housing.

“My view is this is a place we can start,” said Council Chair Jim Mason, who introduced the amended moratorium to the Council. “It gives us that pause so that we can start addressing this.”


Demand for housing in Brunswick has spiked since the start of the pandemic, Economic Development Director Sally Costello said at a June 23 finance committee meeting. She reported the average sale price of a single-family home in April 2022 was $510,00, over 67% higher than the average from the previous April.

Developers have raced to keep up with demand. Brunswick’s Office of Planning & Development projects the town will add 776 housing units in multi-family developments in the next two years, an increase of 456% over the previous decade of construction.

Yet the new market rate construction may do little to help those who make the Area Median Income or less.

The Housing Choice Voucher program, which uses federal funds to subsidize housing costs for low-income workers, has failed many Midcoast residents in the last two years as average rents have far exceeded the vouchers’ limits, said John A. Hodge, executive director of the Brunswick Housing Authority, which administers about 600 vouchers in Brunswick and Topsham.

Before the pandemic, it took a resident with a voucher between 30 and 60 days to find housing, but now it can take six months or longer, Hodge said. While all of Brunswick voucher recipients used to be able to find housing, today 50% of the vouchers remain unused due to inadequate supply.

“That’s historic,” Hodge said. “It’s the worst we’ve ever seen it.”


“I have two shelters full of people who have housing vouchers and can’t find housing,” said Rota Knott, executive director of Tedford Housing, which operates emergency shelters in Brunswick. “We would literally empty our shelters tomorrow if there were places for people to go.”

Though they agree on the need for more housing, Hodge and Knott were divided the development moratorium. The Tedford leader said she trusted the Council’s judgment, while Hodge worried any move to limit the supply of housing would backfire.

Three proposed development projects containing a total of 346 housing units will be frozen as a result of the moratorium, said Costello, though she expressed hope that the developers would be able to re-work their plans to meet the Council’s requirements.

Several Council members will work with Town Manager John Eldridge and his staff on new housing policies that will incentivize or mandate developers to build housing at all income levels, Eldridge said. The group, which will solicit feedback from the developers, plans to present its initial work at the Council’s July 18 meeting.

Costello stressed that no single silver bullet policy can solve the housing crisis. Instead, she said, the Council would need to come up with a range of mandates and incentives to help make sub-market rate  housing development profitable.

“It’s going to take investment on both parts; the private sector as well,” she said. “This isn’t the end of the story. I think that there’s going to be a lot more to come.”

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