Amid Brunswick’s housing “crisis,” the Town Council on Tuesday approved new rules that require some housing developers to lower the cost of apartments while incentivizing them to build more units if they’re affordably priced.

The council unanimously approved the “carrot-stick approach” in an inclusionary zoning ordinance that requires new housing developments with more than 15 rental units to have at least 15% priced affordably for households earning up to 80% of the region’s area median income. To meet that affordability standard, a one-bedroom apartment for one person would have to be priced around $1,300 or lower, while a two-bedroom apartment for three people would have to be around $1,675 or lower.

The ordinance, which only applies to rentals, would also give developers a “density bonus” to build more apartments than are typically allowed, as long as the apartments are priced affordably to households earning up to 120% of the region’s median income.

“This is one step forward,” said John Hodge, chairperson of the Housing Committee, which helped craft the ordinance. “This will not be the last step.”

Hodge said the town’s housing market is in a “crisis.” Housing costs soared in 2022 in Brunswick and have continued to rise. The median home price last year was $465,342, a 19% increase over the previous year, while a town study found two-bedroom apartments were listed at $540-$1,855 above federal fair-market rent levels.

In June 2022, the council enacted a moratorium on new developments with more than 30 units unless 15% were reserved for affordable housing. The moratorium effectively ended with the passage of the new ordinance Tuesday. The council in July 2022 also created the Housing Committee to identify ways to ease the housing crunch. The committee worked with the Planning Board in crafting the inclusionary zoning ordinance, which is modeled partially after one in Portland that requires new developments of 10 units or more to have 25% set aside for affordable housing.


Sally Costello, Brunswick’s director of economic and community development, said the 15% threshold in the town’s ordinance balances the needs of renters and developers.

“You set the standards too high and you can’t have production because it just isn’t feasible for the development community,” said Costello, who worked with the Housing Committee and Planning Board as they drafted the ordinance.

She said currently, there are proposed apartment developments totaling about 60 units that would be subject to the new affordability rules. She also said more developers are interested in building affordable housing in town.

“It’s exciting to see that people are coming to us saying, ‘We want to do 100% affordable.’ We didn’t have this conversation a year ago,” she said.

The Housing Committee and Planning Board will soon consider more possible ways to ease the housing crunch, including preserving existing affordable housing and providing an option for developers of large to-own projects to pay into an affordable housing fund instead of reserving a percentage of units for affordable housing.

“This is a huge problem, but to tackle it, you have to divide it up into small parts and take one at a time,” Councilor Sande Updegraph said. “We took the first step last summer. It’s time in my view now to really look hard at moving forward and continuing our efforts.”

Council Chairperson James Mason agreed.

“I hope the Housing Committee and I know our staff is going to continue to work on this issue and bringing more innovative ideas to the council,” he said.

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