At the renovated Hodgkins School Apartments in Augusta, Governor Janet Mills signed two bills to address Maine’s housing shortage Wednesday. The bills, LD 2003 “An Act To Implement the Recommendations of the Commission To Increase Housing Opportunities in Maine by Studying Zoning and Land Use Restrictions" and LD 201 “An Act To Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Promote Weatherization in the Buildings Sector by Extending the Sunset Date for the Historic Property Rehabilitation Tax Credit” will expand the availability of affordable housing in Maine. The bills were signed alongside older Maine people who are residents of the renovated Apartments, and Legislative and community leaders including Speaker Ryan Fecteau (D-Biddeford) and Senator Matt Pouliot (R-Kennebec).
“The goal of ensuring that Maine people have a safe place to rest their head at night, a place where they can take care of their family, get ready for work and live with dignity and comfort is at the heart of my Administration,” said Governor Mills. “I am proud to sign these bills into law and to continue the progress we have made addressing Maine’s housing shortage. I hope these laws will allow us to say to thousands more Mainers, ‘Welcome Home.’”
In partnership with the State Legislature, Governor Mills enacted legislation last session to create a local zoning and land use commission to explore how we can responsibly develop more single-family and multifamily affordable housing. That Commission delivered its report and recommendations last December.
Based on those recommendations, LD 2003 “An Act To Implement the Recommendations of the Commission To Increase Housing Opportunities in Maine by Studying Zoning and Land Use Restrictions", sponsored by Speaker Fecteau, allows Maine property owners to build accessory dwelling units in residential areas and up to two units on a lot zoned for single-family housing. For larger communities with designated “growth areas,” up to four units could be built. All local building rules would still have to be observed.
“States all over the country are struggling with housing shortages, and Maine is no exception. Today we are taking action in an entirely new way to grow our housing supply to meet demand. We’re seeing rising home and rent costs impacting families from Aroostook County on down. I believe that with this legislation, Maine will be on the forefront on solving this crisis,” said Speaker Ryan Fecteau, the bill sponsor of LD 2003.
"Maine is showing we can be a leader in how we tackle housing affordability. When more Mainers are able to build in-law apartments and grow the supply of housing in their own communities and backyards without large public investments, it will help individual families and provide more options for young families looking to buy a first home and older Mainers who want to downsize into a home they can manage and afford. This legislation makes sense for an independent-minded state like ours," said Anne-Marie Mastraccio, Mayor of Sanford.
In her first year in office, Governor Mills commissioned the state’s first strategic economic development plan in decades which emphasized the need for affordable, available housing to support a strong workforce. Based on those findings, Governor Mills has taken significant action to expand affordable housing in Maine, including signing into law the Maine Affordable Housing Tax Credit, the single largest state investment in housing in Maine’s history.
“In Maine’s economic development strategic plan, the need for workforce housing is clear. 65,000 Mainers will be leaving the workforce this decade. We’ll need at least that many people to move in to fill those jobs. Where will they live? There is a clear link between housing and our workforce needs. I’m proud to see Maine is leading on this issue. LD 2003 paves the way for us to address this issue and today is the beginning of the way we get it right,” said Dana Connors, President of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce. “Ask any Maine employer what is holding back their ability to hire and this is what is on their mind: housing. I believe this is an area where Maine has potential for progress, but regulation has historically stood in the way of making that progress possible. This bill will cut some red tape and allow more homes to be built. Housing supply is not just a social issue in Maine, it’s an economic issue.”
In addition to signing LD 2003, Governor Mills also signed LD 201 “An Act To Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Promote Weatherization in the Buildings Sector by Extending the Sunset Date for the Historic Property Rehabilitation Tax Credit,” sponsored by Senator Nate Libby (D-Androscoggin) and Co-sponsored by Senator Pouliot.
LD 201 extends the sunset date for the Maine Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit, (MHRTC) from 2025 to 2030. MHRTC helped finance the rehabilitation of Hodgkins School into 47 apartments for Maine people age 55 and older.
"As a realtor, one of the most heartbreaking things to see the past couple of years has been potential homeowners at the mercy of the housing market and being sidelined. Unprecedented demand and a lack of supply has driven up housing prices to the point where it has left a certain segment of our most vulnerable population behind," said Sen. Matt Pouliot, R-Kennebec. "If you’re in the bubble where you’re a first-time homebuyer or can only afford housing up to a certain dollar amount, you can’t find not only what you want but just even what you need to simply survive. And for some, it is a matter of survival - housing and shelter in general are at the core of our most basic needs, not much different than food and water."
In Augusta, like many other communities, the number of available rental units is at an all-time low and prices at an all-time high. Augusta Housing reports that, out of close to 700 names pulled from Section 8 waiting lists over the past year, only four percent were able to find a place to live. Though Augusta will add 100 new units this year, MaineHousing estimates the city would need 847 units to meet the current need.
“With all-hands-on-deck and 100 units planned for development across the city, we are only able to meet 11% of the 874 total units still needed here in Augusta,” said Amanda Olson, Director of Augusta Housing Authority. “To put this issue into perspective, each and every resident who lives at Hodgkins School has a story and each was, at one point, facing the challenges shared by so many across our state, good people who are searching and waiting, in need of a safe, affordable place to call home. Housing is critical for our older adults but equally important to Mainers of all ages, to our economy, and to support our workforce. It is clear that relying solely on publicly financed large-scale housing developments simply cannot alone get the job done. We are encouraged by the passing of LD 2003, a bill that will have a profound and comprehensive impact on the expansion of housing opportunities across the state.”
Governor Mills was also joined at the signing ceremony by residents of the Hodgkins School Apartments.
“I was married for 52 years and had a home in Windham. I was very fortunate, my husband and I did a lot, we had a home and a boat and everything was really good. I lost my husband four years ago and what happened to me and what happens to a lot of widows is that your income is cut in half. I still made too much money for low-income housing but I didn’t make enough for the higher income rents. I moved to an apartment in South Portland but had to pay $1400 a month and was having to take money out of savings each month just to pay the rent and my expenses. They call it a black hole, when you are retired and have such a limited income. It’s tough. My son found this place and helped me apply. I am so grateful for this apartment. I am considered mid-income so it’s hard, I guess it’s quite common that this is a problem for people who lose their spouses.” said Rosemary, who lives at Hodgkins School Apartments.
“I am on disability and because of my income I needed something I could afford. I had been on a waiting list and was really excited when I found out I was going to be living here. This is a really nice place. When I came to see the apartment, I loved the inside of the school and the way it was decorated. It’s a really homey, comfortable place to live. The grounds are beautiful. I saw it and fell in love with it. It is just where I wanted to be,” said Jenny, who lives at Hodgkins School Apartments.