Biddeford District Courthouse, which closed when the state opened York Judicial Center last year. The Legislature passed a bill to allow “surplus” state property to be converted into housing. Derek Davis /Staff Photographer

AUGUSTA — A bill that would allow three currently vacant district courthouses, in York, Sanford and Biddeford, to be repurposed into housing cleared the Maine Legislature and has gone to Gov. Janet Mills.

The bill, which was sponsored by Rep. Traci Gere, D-Kennebunkport, on Mills’ behalf, passed the Senate on Wednesday. Mills has 10 days to sign the bill, veto it or allow it to become law without her signature.

Under Maine law, the Maine State Housing Authority has first dibs on purchasing a state property that is deemed “surplus,” but must first defer to the local public housing authority if the community is served by one. In this case, they are.

“It’s a win-win-win,” Gere said in an emailed statement. “The housing authorities can cost-effectively renovate these ideally located buildings, the communities and residents benefit from much-needed affordable housing, and the state is able to move these properties off of the state rolls and into productive use,” she said.

In 2023, the Maine Judicial Branch opened the York Judicial Center, located in Biddeford, which consolidated district courthouses in Biddeford, Sanford and York – leaving the original buildings vacant – and replaced an aging courthouse in Alfred.

The to-be-converted courthouses are located at 447 Main St. in Springvale, 11 Chases Pond Road in York and 25 Adams St. in Biddeford.


Lawmakers hope the bill will help ease the state’s housing crisis, which is particularly dire in coastal Maine. A landmark report from multiple state agencies released last year found that Maine must build up to 84,000 new units of housing by 2030 in order to fulfill expected demand and compensate for historic underproduction. In York County specifically, the report estimated that up to 11,000 homes are needed by 2030 in order to meet future demand. And like the rest of Maine, York County is experiencing a homelessness crisis that is fueled by the tight housing market.

Sen. Henry Ingwersen, D-Arundel, spoke to the Legislature’s Joint Select Committee on Housing during a public hearing on March 26, arguing that it’s a crucial step toward combating local homelessness.

“As a former teacher, I find the rise in unhoused students in my district very heartbreaking,” Ingwersen said, highlighting data that show some 3% of students in the Biddeford School District were experiencing homelessness in 2022. “The opportunity for three local housing authorities in York County to acquire the retired district court buildings will help the county to better meet its support for the full-spectrum of affordable housing development.”

Anya Trundy, chief of legislative and strategic operation for the Maine Department of Administrative and Financial Services, told the committee that the state is prepared to sell the properties to the respective housing authorities for a nominal fee of $1.

The bill itself does not stipulate that the housing must be affordable – it just says it will be converted into “residential housing” – but housing authorities are generally tasked with providing housing for low- and moderate-income citizens.

“We always keep our properties way below market, even if we don’t have to. That’s just our mission,” Guy Gagnon, the executive director of the Biddeford Housing Authority, told the committee during the public hearing.


He hopes the housing can be used to serve families who are “moderate income,” including firefighters, teachers and policemen.

Rep. Marc Malon II, D-Biddeford, who also sponsored the bill, called the former Biddeford courthouse building “perfect for this use,” highlighting that it’s close to downtown.

The buildings also are in relatively good condition, making them more desirable for redevelopment. “Usually we’re redeveloping the worst building in town,” Gagnon said, “so we’re way ahead of the game on the cost spectrum.”

Erik Jorgensen, senior director of government relations and communications at MaineHousing, told the committee that if the local housing authorities come to MaineHousing for financing to repurpose the buildings, that money would come with restrictions and the units would have to be below market rate. It is very challenging to build below market rate housing without government subsidies, making it likely these housing authorities would seek MaineHousing assistance.

Gagnon, who already has another project underway on Adams Street, took a moment at the hearing to praise the city of Biddeford and the state Legislature for their momentum around solving the housing crisis.

“In my 25 years in the affordable housing industry, I don’t think we’ve had this much positive energy around housing in the Legislature and the governor’s office,” Gagnon said.


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