Gov. Janet Mills speaks during the Greater Portland Council of Governments Regional Housing Summit on Tuesday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Maine has made strides in easing the state’s housing crisis over the past year, Gov. Janet Mills said at an event Tuesday, but construction is not keeping up with population growth and continues to be hampered by resistance to development in many communities.

Mills kicked off a housing summit sponsored by the Greater Portland Council of Governments by highlighting the investments her administration has made in housing – and affordable housing, in particular. So far, nearly $285 million has been committed to building more apartments and homes across the state, although many of those units are yet to be finished.

Mills also used Tuesday’s event to announce that MaineHousing will finance the construction of 105 affordable rental housing units in six communities across the state. The one- and two-bedroom units in Hallowell, Newcastle, Rockport, Rumford, Sanford and Waterville were made possible by recent passage of a bipartisan bill that authorizes MaineHousing to issue more bonds to finance affordable rental housing and mortgages for first-time homebuyers.

“Our work is never finished, but we know that the lack of affordable housing has incredible impacts on our economy,” she said to a roomful of real estate professionals, developers, planning and municipal officials, and business leaders.

Perhaps the biggest impact is on the workforce. Jobs are going unfilled because people can’t afford to live anywhere near those jobs. The governor challenged communities to seize the opportunity to welcome growth.

“There is nothing to fear,” Mills said. “We are all in this together. The whole state needs you to do your part.”


The state’s housing crisis has been well documented, and although it’s most acute right now, it’s been ongoing more or less since the Great Recession of 2008. A report last year from MaineHousing concluded that the state needs to add up to 84,000 new housing units by 2030 to keep up with population growth that has surged since the pandemic. But there are many interrelated barriers to reaching that goal.

The Greater Portland Council of Governments, a member organization of municipalities in the region, has made housing its top priority and has been working to provide resources to communities. Tuesday’s summit coincided with its launch of a new database, called Great Maine Neighborhoods, that includes regional data, goals and suggestions.

Attendees listen to speakers during the Greater Portland Council of Governments (GPCOG) Regional Housing Summit on Tuesday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

The council’s executive director, Kristina Egan, said if solving the crisis were easy, it would have happened already.

“But housing is hard,” she said. “It’s hard because change is hard. We’re afraid we’re going to lose what we have.”

Most of the featured speakers Tuesday spoke to the challenges of fixing a crisis that was decades in the making, driven in large part by historic underproduction. In recent years, growth from people outside Maine has tightened the market and made it harder for people who grew up here to afford to live here. High interest rates also have made it difficult for new buyers, while simultaneously keeping people in homes they might otherwise be interested in putting on the market.

The biggest message, though, was finding a way to combat the anxiety in local communities any time a housing project of any size is proposed.


“I think local objection is always going to win over statewide interest,” said Quincy Hentzel, president of the Greater Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce. “This conversation needs to happen at a state and regional level.”

Greg Payne, Gov. Mills’ senior housing adviser, was more pointed.

The owners of two vacant buildings at 155 and 165 Main St. in downtown Waterville, seen in February 2023, plan to add nearly two-dozen studio apartments. On Tuesday, state officials announced that 18 units at 165 Main St. were among projects across the state that MaineHousing will finance as the result of a bill recently signed into law. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel, file

“So long as we continue to operate in a system where the comfortably housed get to decide where and when others are comfortably housed, we can’t be surprised (by resistance),” he said, drawing a round of applause.

Municipal zoning in communities has long been used as a way to manage, or even limit growth. But in many cases, those restrictions have added to sprawl, which results in more traffic and more emissions that affect the environment.

“We can’t deny that we’re seeing climate change in our daily lives,” said Rebeccah Sanders, CEO of the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “Housing issues are climate issues. We can’t separate that.”

Although Maine doesn’t have mass transit at the scale that major metropolitan areas do, there are opportunities in town villages and city centers to build more housing that doesn’t necessitate increased driving.


“We would embrace zoning changes that would allow more density of housing and opportunities for mass transit,” Sanders said.

Some concerns that have been raised in communities have focused on potential tax increases or straining resources or quality of life – the idea that the attributes of our communities will change dramatically with any growth. Voters in Cumberland this month rejected an initiative to allow construction of 107 new units based largely on these concerns.

But many who work in housing policy say those fears are misplaced.

Jeff Levine, a longtime planner for the city of Portland who now owns his own planning consulting firm, said municipal zoning has set many communities back.

“By writing zoning to allow more housing, you’re subsidizing the housing market for free,” he said. “It doesn’t create housing but it creates the platform for it.”

Jarrod Maxfield, president of the Greater Portland Council of Government’s board and a town councilor in Windham, said communities and their residents need to understand that growth and change are going to happen. He said elected officials and policymakers can do better at explaining why the current crisis is so acute and also why it presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity.

“We have a chance to make sure it’s smart growth,” he said. “It’s important for people to be informed. In a vacuum, it will be filled with falsehoods and negative information.”

Related Headlines

Comments are no longer available on this story