Sam Marcisso at Zoom Drain explains the lack of workforce housing in Maine is impacting his business’s ability to attract applicants. Courtesy Photo/ The Downs

SCARBOROUGH — Maine is in the midst of a housing crisis, say many local and state officials. Housing prices have increased over the past few years, a situation made worse by the pandemic.  

The lack of workforce housing in Maine has affected businesses’ ability to attract applicants. Recently, many local companies have seen an increase in applicants who have accepted employment, only to decline after an unsuccessful search for workforce housing within Cumberland and York counties.   

The lack of affordable housing in Cumberland County has made it a challenge to retain younger people who have recently graduated from college in the area, some business owners say.  

Representatives from Zoom Drain, a sewer and drain home service company, say that the business is growing and is growing quickly, but the lack of nearby affordable housing has made it difficult to employ help.  

“We are currently trying to hire for multiple positions, with upwards of 10 openings available,” said Sam Marcisso at Zoom Drain. “We are having a hard time filling those positions, and on multiple occasions, the travel time for the applicants/interviewees from their homes is the reason. They live too far away to make it feasible and so far away because of the housing prices in the greater Portland area. Approximately half of our staff have a 30-plus minute drive, with two being 50-plus (in) each direction. We have had a few applicants who said the drive from their homes would be too long. When asked if they had thought about relocating, they responded saying they would if they could afford to move closer. The willingness is there, but the housing for them is not. I have also had existing, and potential employees say they could not find anything available that would fit their needs.”

The Swanson Group LLC is a local CPA firm based in Westbrook, Maine, an accounting firm, and is currently having the same issue.  


“During COVID, we had several staff looking to purchase first-time homes, and the entry-level house price began to rise during this timeframe,” said Tabitha C. Swanson of The Swanson Group. “The next noticeable point for us happened this fall; our industry is challenged to find candidates entering the workforce. We had a candidate moving here from New York; he was first delayed by two weeks due to the inability to find affordable housing. He then officially reached out to say he couldn’t locate affordable housing and had to turn down the opportunity. Recently we have had two staff level employees searching for an affordable house, neither of them has yet obtained it and are still searching. These are young professionals with entry-level pay (one of them is looking for a roommate to share the costs with). They tell me about wait lists at the affordable housing that they expect an 18-month wait and looking at properties that are disasters and overpriced. If our entry-level staff are having difficulties, I cannot imagine how difficult it is for those without college degrees and professional careers.”  

Braincube is a fast-growing tech company that’s based in Portland, and France.  The company offers an average salary 40 percent higher than the median area salary, but  prospective employees still cannot find affordable housing. There just isn’t enough inventory, said Braincube representatives.

While successful in filling positions, the company “is struggling to find housing for those who we’ve succesffully hired,” said Braincube representatives. “People are really happy to move to Maine but the challenges have been identifying housing for them.”

“We’ve had to get creative to solve it (the housing problem),” Becky Brown of Braincube said. “Braincube’s HR department is actively working to create solutions by touring five prospective housing locations and calling 20 location companies to source housing for their incoming employees. They’ve also created an internal network of housing which includes passing down apartments from employee to employee; subletting or leasing units to other employees. Currently — they have eight employees committed to work, and every single one has a challenge finding housing. Currently, three apartments are being passed down, and two interns are staying in Airbnb’s because of no short-term rentals.”  

“It’s really caused people to take longer to start employment because they can’t find housing to move here,” Brown said. “We’ve had to re-examine our salaries, hybrid work policies, expand how we recruit, and more. We plan to hire around 10 more people over the next year. “

A current Downs resident Murphy Crowell looked for months before finding a condominium he and his growing family could afford in the Cumberland and York counties areas before finding a place in the Downs. For months Crowell had to commute from New Hampshire to Maine for his job.  

“Workforce housing is important for people to have a place to live and be able to boost the Maine economy by employing people and having an affordable place to live and not being housebroken on a mortgage on top of that,” said Crowell. “I was a commuter from New Hampshire up here until we were able to find a place, but I was commuting an hour each way, and it was terrible dealing with traffic. I wasn’t able to find anything close by, so the lack of housing impacted me for almost six months.”  

At the Scarborough Town Council meeting held on July 20, the council passed a second and final vote to amend the town zoning ordinance to include a workforce housing definition.  

“We have had an item related to workforce housing moving through our processes in Scarborough,” said Town Council chair John Cloutier. “In particular, we have been working to define what exactly ‘workforce housing’ means from an ordinance perspective. This will allow for special treatment of this new ‘class’ of development when the situation warrants in the future. We relied upon our Housing Alliance to draft recommended language, and have since held a first reading, public hearings at both the Planning Board and Town Council levels.”

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