Partisan politics play a role. High prices at the grocery store don’t help.

But if policymakers are wondering why people feel so bummed out about the economy, even as most indicators say it’s doing well, look no further than the housing market, which is picking winners and losers in America like never before and leaving behind large portions of the public as a result.

Put simply, if you’re in a house you like now, you’re probably in pretty good shape. If you are renting while looking to buy, or own a home that doesn’t fit your needs, you have to wonder if you’ll ever find the stability and financial security that comes with owning the right home.

Once a virtual guarantee to everyone who bought into the American Dream, home ownership and all its benefits are now out of reach for way too many Americans.

That dynamic has been building for a while, worsening in recent years. The Press Herald reports that the average home price in Cumberland County has increased roughly 63% since 2019, as mortgage rates have been shooting upward, making buying a house even more expensive.

During the same period, “fair market” rent in Portland has increased by 40%.


So while homeowners have seen the value of their properties skyrocket, potential new buyers have watched the price of owning a home go out of reach. And left to the out-of-control rental market, they often now end up paying more for rent each month than many homeowners pay in mortgage payments.

Good luck saving up for a down payment. Or anything at all.

And it’s not just the Portland area where the the problem is bad and getting worse. According to MaineHousing, rent was unaffordable for median earners in 15 out of 16 Maine counties last year, while home prices were too high in seven counties, including around the state’s biggest population centers.

Across the country, the cost of housing is too high even for many full-time workers, with the median cost of a one-bedroom rental unaffordable to half of workers. Low- and even middle-income families have to stretch to make rent each month; saving and buying a house, along with the financial and emotional safety it provides, is out of the question.

The shortage of housing, and the high prices that causes, affects nearly everyone. People at the very bottom of the economic ladder are the most vulnerable, and they often end up homeless when they miss rent, or their landlords find someone who can pay more and they have nowhere else to go.

It’s happening so often that Maine communities big and small have people living on the streets like never before.


It’s only marginally easier for everyone else, many of whom are paying more than 30% of their household income to housing – the mark of unaffordability. Some of them own a home; at least that money is going toward an investment. But more than a quarter of Maine households rent, meaning they don’t get anything in return for their housing payments except a month of shelter and a depleted bank account.

On top of that, many have no guarantees that they’ll be able to stay where they are, or if they’ll be able to find another place if they can’t.

Too many people, here in Maine and across the country, are paying a hefty portion of their paycheck for housing. Often, that housing doesn’t provide much in the way of emotional or financial security.

How can you feel good about anything if you can’t feel good about where you live?

That’s why the efforts to build more housing where it is most needed are so important. Already there are signs that those efforts are working, with the growth in rents slowing down ever so slightly in places that are adding a lot of units.

Maine has made improvements in recent years that will lead to the construction of more new units of all kinds in the next few years. Even then, local opposition, labor shortages, supply chain problems and difficulties in funding continue to get in the way.

If we can figure out those problems and get more homes built, our guess is that people will feel a whole lot better about the economy.

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