As Maine simultaneously battles a housing crisis and a workforce shortage, Sen. Angus King is co-sponsoring a bill he hopes will help address both problems.

The Homes for Every Local Protector, Educator and Responder Act, or HELPER, would establish a no-downpayment first-time homebuyers loan program for law enforcement officers, firefighters, medical first responders and teachers who haven’t owned a home for the past three years.

Congress Guns

Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, listens during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing to examine worldwide threats at the Capitol in Washington on Wednesday. Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/Associated Press

The housing market in Maine and across the country has become increasingly competitive in the last four years. High prices, rising interest rates and low inventory have boxed many would-be buyers, particularly first-timers, out of the market. In February, the median home sale price in Maine was $353,000, according to data from the Maine Association of Realtors. A traditional 20% downpayment would be more than $70,000. In 2019, the median home sale price was $225,000 with a $45,000 downpayment.

For middle-class families, pulling together a lump sum of $70,000 – or $105,000 if they’re trying to buy in Cumberland County – simply isn’t feasible, King said in a phone interview Friday.

The HELPER Act, modeled after the federal Veteran’s Affairs Home Loan Program, would make buying a house a little easier, he said, by eliminating both the mortgage downpayment and monthly mortgage insurance premium requirements. The loan would require a 3.6% upfront mortgage insurance premium to help fund the program.

“Isn’t it a shame that a teacher or a police officer can’t live in a community where they work because of the cost of housing?” King said.


Lawmakers also hope the HELPER Act could boost workforce retention efforts, especially in states like Maine, which are actively trying to combat teacher, firefighter and law enforcement shortages.

Anecdotally, businesses have reported that prospective employees have turned down positions because they couldn’t find housing.

Both housing and workforce needs are being felt acutely across the country, which King said is why the bill has broad bipartisan support. He joins more than 15 senators on both sides of the aisle in co-sponsoring the bill.

“We think it could make a difference,” he said.

Rolling out the program for everyone would be too large an order, King said, but targeting “helpers” could help the bill reach the floor.

“These are people that are the mainstays of our communities,” he said.



Of course, housing affordability is just one piece of the puzzle.

Maine’s housing market has been plagued by historic underproduction of homes, some of the oldest housing stock in the country, an influx of in-migration and a changing labor force.

These contributing factors have snowballed and now policymakers are scrambling to figure out how to nearly double the annual number of building permits issued in Maine each year and rehab existing but deteriorating homes to house current and future Mainers.

The state needs to build up to 84,000 new homes by 2030 to accommodate its existing population and the people expected to move to Maine, according to an October report from the state and MaineHousing. The total number of homes in Maine – not just the number of new homes being built – needs to increase by about 11%.

The HELPER Act is by no means a silver bullet, King said. It doesn’t add any sorely needed homes to the market. Instead, he called it “silver buckshot.”


“Just because something isn’t a comprehensive solution doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it,” he said.

There are other important ways to address the housing crisis, King said, like lowering the cost of construction, modernizing the way houses are built and beefing up programs like the Historic Tax Credit to help spur rehabilitation of existing housing stock.

Legislators aren’t the only ones trying to combat housing affordability and workforce issues simultaneously.

Large employers like Amazon, Walmart, the University of Southern California and Johns Hopkins University are rolling out various home-boosting programs, including plans to construct new units, provide mortgage assistance, down payment assistance and other loans and grants.

In December, Bowdoin College announced a new first-time homebuyers program for Bowdoin faculty and staff – a forgivable loan for up to 10% (capped at $50,000) of the purchase price on a home within 40 miles of the school’s campus.

The Senate bill is similar and while it won’t solve everything, King said, it would be “an important step forward.”

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