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Thursday, March 31 at 6:30 p.m.
Affordable Housing: Can we break the bottleneck?

Rising construction costs. Tiny inventories. Skyrocketing prices. Affordable housing has reached a crisis in Maine for renters and would-be owners alike.

Now lawmakers are grappling with a bill that creates new zoning rules to encourage denser development. And in the wings: $50 million in affordable housing assistance.

Do we have the policies in place to break the bottleneck in affordable housing?

Join moderator Carol Coultas and panelists Dana Totman, president and CEO of Avesta Housing, Jeff Levine, owner of Levine Planning Strategies and a longtime Portland planner, and Amy Cullen, partner and vice president of The Szanton Company, on Thursday, March 31 from 6:30-8 p.m. as they take a deep dive into this timely topic.

Here is some background information related to Maine’s affordable housing crisis:

The need for affordable housing in Maine has been increasing while supply decreases. The Maine Affordable Housing Coalition reports one in five renters spends more than half their income on housing and that there are three families on a waiting list for every family in a federally subsidized unit. The problem is especially acute in rural areas and for vulnerable populations like older Mainers. Current practices meet about one-quarter of affordable housing demand annually.

Here are some resources to help you understand the policies and practices that have brought us to this point, and some thoughts on how to address it.


The concept of affordable housing first appeared in the federal government in the 1930s when it stepped in to create mortgage insurance programs to increase home ownership in the wake of the Great Depression. In 1965, HUD was created as a Cabinet-level agency and began providing subsidies to help people who couldn’t afford housing offered in the marketplace. Through the ‘50s and ‘60s, federal programs provided incentives for developers to build affordable housing. In 1973, President Nixon imposed a moratorium on building new housing by HUD. Instead, a voucher program (Section 8) was launched to provide rental assistance, but by the 1980s, renters and homeowners were leaving the program in droves. In 1986, the IRS offered the Low-Income Housing Tax credit to spur development of new affordable housing. In 2008, President Bush authorized the National Housing Trust Fund to provide funds to complement other federal housing assistance, but it wasn’t funded until 2014. Today, housing trust funds exist at the state, county and local levels funded with a wide variety of sources such a real estate transfer taxes and impact fees. In Maine, the National Housing Trust Fund is administered by MaineHousing to provide financing to developers to create rental housing for households with extremely low incomes (30 percent of median income).

Affordable housing history

Public housing history


Feb. 2020: A report compiled by Levine Planning Strategies for the city of Bath shows the mismatch between the housing types, sizes, and quality as well as the needs of those living in the region. Over 40% of households in the region are spending more than 30% of their income on housing. This is compounded by an average 42% increase in rents over the past five years, increases driven by net in- migration to the region. A compendium of best practices for affordable housing policies begins on page 33.

Feb. 2021: The National Low Income Housing Coalition publishes a report called “The Gap” showing the connection between stable housing and public health, and the impact the pandemic has had on affordable housing.

March 2021: The National Low Income Housing Coalition publishes a report called “The Gap” showing the connection between stable housing and public health, and the impact the pandemic has had on affordable housing.
A summary of Maine data appears here: Gap

Aug. 2021: A legislative commission is created to look for solutions to Maine’s affordable housing by studying land use and zoning restrictions.

Aug. 2021: Vox-produced primer on how we arrived at today’s affordable housing crisis.

Sept. 2021: President Biden announces plan to boost supply of affordable housing by increasing federal resources and financing, and limiting the sale to large investors of certain federally-owned properties.

December 2021: The legislative commission created to address affordable housing issues recommendations that eliminates municipal growth limits on single-family housing, relaxes zoning and backs denser housing projects.

January 2022: Gov. Mills launches the Affordable Homeownership Program, expected to support construction of at least 150 new, single-family, affordable homes across Maine. The program is part of the $50 million from the federal American Rescue Plan Act the governor directed toward affordable housing initiatives in her Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan.

January 2022: Speaker Ryan Fecteau offers the keynote at the annual forecasting conference of the Maine Real Estate and Development Association, noting there is not a single county in Maine where someone can afford rent on a typical 2-bedroom apartment on a full-time, minimum wage job.

Slideshow; Video

Feb. 2022: Biden’s Build Back Better Act contained billions to address affordable housing needs, but the bill faltered when Democrat Joe Manchin pulled his support citing costs.

Feb. 2022: Avesta Housing President Dana Totman addresses the Portland Regional Chamber on how Maine has arrived at this point with an urgent need for affordable housing, particularly for older Mainers, first-time home buyers, the homeless and immigrant populations.

Feb. 2022: Vox-produced video of why new affordable housing tends to look the same, and the impact of new housing on neighborhoods.

March 2022: Hearings begin on LD 2003, a bill that would impose municipal growth caps for residential dwellings and other new regulations. While it has significant bipartisan support, opponents cite the loss of local control. A compromise measure is introduced, eliminating the growth cap and sidelining an intended state housing review board.

Spring 2022: Summary of affordable housing bills and policies compiled by GrowSmart Maine.

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