Brunswick officials are reviewing new housing rules that would force some developers to price rentals cheaper while incentivizing them to build more units if they are priced affordably.

The Planning Board and Housing Committee crafted a zoning ordinance that would require new housing developments with more than 15 rental units to designate at least 15% as affordable to households earning up to 80% of the region’s median income. It would allow developers a “density bonus” to build more units than are typically allowed, as long as units are priced as affordable to households earning less than 120% of the region’s median income.

“Let’s try a stick with a carrot and see how that works,” John Hodge, chairperson of the Housing Committee and executive director of the Brunswick-Topsham Housing Authority, told the Town Council Monday night.

The council, which in June 2022 enacted a housing moratorium amid the ongoing affordability crisis, agreed to hold a public hearing on the inclusionary zoning plan June 20.

The moratorium expires July 17.

“We have to start somewhere,” said Councilor Abby King.


The moratorium prohibits developments of 30 or more rental or for-sale units unless 15% are priced as affordable to a household earning less than 100% of the median income. The current density bonus applies to units that are priced at less than 100% of the median income.

The changes included in the new ordinance should have an effect, according to Hodge.

“We’re not going to be able to fund hundreds of millions of dollars to build new housing, and that’s what it would take to build the number of units we need here in Brunswick,” he said. “But the things that you can change are your zoning ordinances and providing flexibility at the local level to create more affordable housing.”

Resident Nathan MacDonald told the council he supports the ordinance because the rental market is too expensive.

“There’s nothing below $2,000,” he said. “I have a job that pays well, but the budget to put to a tiny, two-bedroom apartment in Brunswick, Maine, over $2,000 a month is not feasible.”

Brunswick’s inclusionary zoning ordinance is modeled partially after Portland’s, which requires new developments of 10 units or more to designate 25% for affordable housing.

The Planning Board and Housing Committee left for-sale units out of the ordinance for now, as they are exploring adding a fee option for developers to pay into the town’s affordable housing support fund instead of adhering to the affordable unit requirement.

“Inclusionary zoning is just part of what we’re trying to do,” said Sally Costello, the town’s director of economic and community development. She said board and committee members may explore regulations for house production and preserving current affordable housing, while examining financial assistance for renters, homeowners, landlords, property owners, developers and nonprofit groups.

“We’re going to have to work with the state, we’re going to have to work with the federal government to develop those funding sources to create more housing,” Hodge said. “We’re going to have to stay vigilant. We’re going to have to continue to monitor this and come up with some new ideas.”

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