Last week, I introduced the idea of using wargaming techniques to look at chamber issues and called it chamber-gaming. The idea is to come up with a fictional scenario and then see how our current policies and relationships could solve those problems to determine if we have the right policies in place or if we need new ones. We decided to focus the exercise on workforce issues the chamber is working on, and we used affordable housing as the issue last week.

We left off by outlining that the key to affordable housing is supply of all housing at all levels. The problem comes when we stop building middle class and upper-middle class housing because we want to demand only more lower-income housing projects.

The issue is, if there is no inventory for the $400K buyer, then they will outbid the $300K buyer. If there is no inventory for the $300K buyer, they will outbid the $200K buyer. If there is no inventory for the $200K buyer, they will outbid the $100K buyer. It’s the same with rentals — those who can afford $2,000 in rent outbid the $1,600 renters; $1,600 renters outbid $1,200 renters and so on.

We need housing at all levels, and last week, we also discussed that there are somewhere in the vicinity of 19,000-25,000 open jobs within 25 miles of Brunswick, and if even one-third of those employees need housing, we are looking at 6,000-8,000 housing units needed. Now that we’re caught up, let’s dive into the policies in place.

Let’s begin with a tangible housing policy as an example. The Town of Brunswick is convening a group to examine what policies are needed for housing right now, while limiting approvals for the next 180 days of new projects of over 30 housing units unless at least 15% of the units meet the town standard for affordable housing. Developers who are dealing with supply chain shortages, staffing increases and inflation of building supplies are working with banks to see what projects they can submit under those parameters and still get bank funding for. Some developers think they can make those numbers work, while other developers are less sure.

To be clear, the Town of Brunswick’s policy is temporary and we’re using it as a tangible example of policy to look at what happens when this type of policy is in place. As of now, it does appear that the three projects that had begun when the ordinance was put in place are adapting their plans to make it work. However, continuing with a plan is one thing, because you already have the contractors and vendors scheduled to do the work and rescheduling that could be more costly than adapting the end pricing for the units. To be ensure this policy works for brand-new projects is another thing all together.


This situation is very tenuous because other communities in Maine have recently passed housing policies that were more restrictive than the temporary guidance Brunswick is using and have seen developers move their projects to other communities or sit on a piece of property in hopes that the policies will change in the future. We need housing for our employees near where they work, so what are some key aspects to consider when making new policies?

First, we must always remember that not every community is instituting new housing policies, and if a developer is deciding between building somewhere with more restrictions versus building somewhere with fewer restrictions, developers may go to the areas where they can build more easily. The housing demand is so high that people will move to where they can find affordable housing, and for those with transportation concerns, where they live can be a limiting factor to where they can work.

Secondly, any policy with a limit will always encounter submissions just below the threshold. If, for instance, there are different building rules for projects over 30 housing units, then look for a lot of 29 unit submissions. If 15% of the housing will have a cap on rental costs, don’t expect any more than that number to be set at that rate. It’s like the speed limit: Set it at 70 and you won’t get many drivers going 80.

Finally, we need to build policies that have the real incentives developers want. There’s sometimes a negative connotation around providing additional benefit to developers, but the fact is there are a limited number of investors who are looking to spend thousands and millions of dollars on projects in our communities. Developers do want to work in the areas that have the most need for housing, which our area certainly does, but if they’re deciding between our region or 30 miles away from our region, we want to be sure our incentives are competitive to attract them to invest here.

In closing, we focused today on Brunswick because the town is working on these problems right now, so it becomes an easy place to start the discussion and to get examples from. However, all of our communities in this region should be doing the work Brunswick is doing to look at their incentives for developers and the best policies for growth. I commend them for getting a public-private partnership going to examine what is needed, and I’m sure through open-minded dialogue that they will come to solutions that help Brunswick continue to grow.

And to all communities looking to tackle this, our chamber is willing to help. I can’t promise you that I’m a housing expert, because I’m not. I’m the executive director of a chamber of commerce. However, I do have a network of very intelligent people with whom I may be able to connect you, depending on what you need advice on. It’s actually what we do best, connecting business leaders, so if you want our help, we would be happy to talk to you about it.

Cory King is the executive director of the Bath-Brunswick Regional Chamber.

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