In a bid to increase affordable housing in Brunswick, a town committee on Monday proposed an “inclusionary” zoning ordinance that would require new housing developments to have a certain percentage of affordable units.

Housing costs soared in 2022 in Brunswick. The median home price was $465,342, a 19% increase over the previous year. A household would have to earn $154,628 to afford it, based on federal guidelines that people should spend no more than 30% of their income on housing. The median income in the Brunswick area in 2022 was $71,636, meaning 80% of residents were unable to afford the average house, according to Sally Costello, Brunswick’s director of economic and community development.

“It’s astounding,” Costello said Monday during a workshop on the proposed zoning change. “This is impacting the people who live here and why so many people are being driven out of Brunswick or just can’t come here in the first place. So it affects our workforce, and it affects our residents who live here now and are looking to make a change or want to stay where they are, and their rents keep increasing.”

House speaker Ryan Fecteau talks with Chris Lee of Backyard ADUs while touting new affordable housing legislation during a tour of an accessory dwelling unit in Brunswick on March 2, 2022. Derek Davis / Portland Press Herald file photo

Renting in town is also unaffordable for many. Fair market rent, as defined by federal standards, for the Brunswick area is $1,170 a month for a one-bedroom, $1,540 a month for a two-bedroom and $1,940 for a three-bedroom. Costello’s office conducted a study that found rentals listed for $130-$930 above fair market rent for a one-bedroom. For two-bedroom units, listings were $540-$1,855 above fair market rent while three-bedrooms were listed $160-$1,260 above the standard.

“People just cannot afford to live here,” Costello said.

In an attempt to address the crisis, the Town Council in June 2022 enacted a moratorium on new housing projects with more than 30 units, unless 15% were reserved for affordable housing. The council in December voted to extend the moratorium until June.


Planning Board member Art Boulay said a moratorium is “inconsistent” and makes it difficult for developers to plan.

“Don’t keep changing the rules,” Boulay said during the workshop. “That’s the biggest issue we’re up against, whether it’s building affordable housing or the next shopping mall.”

The Housing Committee’s inclusionary zoning plan includes two options. The first mirrors the housing moratorium and would require projects with 30 or more units to have 15% of units reserved for households making no more than the Brunswick-area median income. The second option is more aggressive and would have a sliding scale based on the size of the project. For projects with 10-29 units, 10% would need to be affordable to those making 80% of the median income for renting or 120% for buying. For projects with 30-49 units, 15% would need to be affordable for those same groups. For projects with 50 units or more, 20% would need to be affordable.

Kevin Bunker, who lives in Brunswick, is the principal of the Portland-based Developers Collaborative, one of the largest affordable housing developers in the state. He’s developing 60 units at Brunswick Landing for asylum-seeking families to live in for two years, after which 36 of the units will be set aside for affordable housing. He told the committee Monday the moratorium may be having a negative effect.

“Right now, a lot of developers outside Brunswick would not want to develop here because they don’t know what the policies are going to be,” Bunker said.

He said he would prefer an ordinance that would require projects to have 10% of units made affordable to those earning 80% of the median income or 15% of units made affordable to those earning 100% of the median income.


“Once you start to do things that start with a 2 (as in 20%) at 80% (of median income), you’re probably going to kill some projects,” he said.

Deering Place, an affordable housing development in downtown Portland, opened in June 2022. Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Portland Press Herald file photo

That scenario happened in Portland, according to Christine Grimando, Portland’s director of planning and urban development. In 2015, city officials passed an inclusionary zoning ordinance that required projects with 10 or more units have 10% made affordable for those earning 100% of the median income for renting and 120% of the median income for buying. In 2020, voters approved a measure that increased the requirements — now 25% of such units must be made affordable to those earning only 80% of the median income for renting and buying.

“We are seeing a drop-off in housing applications in first quarter of 2023,” Grimando said. “If (inclusionary zoning) is dialed up too high to carry all the weight of your affordability needs, to the point where the math doesn’t work for developers, then you don’t get housing production.”

There have been 190 inclusionary zoning units built in Portland since 2016, according to Grimando. Developers in Portland also have the option to make a payment to avoid the affordable unit requirement — Grimando said so far more than $4 million has been collected for a city housing trust that can be used for other affordable housing projects.

Seth Parker, a vice president of development at Portland-based Silver Street Development, suggested Brunswick officials add the payment option to their inclusionary zoning plan. He agreed with Bunker that the ordinance should require projects have either 10% or 15% of units be priced affordably based on 80% or 100% on the median income, respectively.

“Simpler is better,” Parker said.

However, he said he was worried the ordinance could have unintended consequences if there are economic changes like a possible recession.

“As soon as you make decisions and put something like this in place, there’s no flexibility in place as markets change around it,” Parker said.

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