Brunswick library series to examine housing affordability

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BRUNSWICK — As homelessness becomes more of an issue in town, Curtis Memorial Library will be holding a series of community conversations this fall on affordable housing.

All the sessions will be held from 6-7:30 p.m. at the library. “Housing Vulnerability & Homelessness” will launch the series Thursday, Oct. 18. “The Local Landscape” will be Tuesday, Oct. 30 and the final session, “Promising Practices,” will be Thursday, Nov. 29.

According to Tedford Housing’s website, in fiscal year 2018, 87 single adults and 15 families were housed in the Brunswick emergency shelters, and 450 people were helped with prevention services. Tedford, however, can also only assist about 20 percent of people who need help.

Tedford has also been hindered from building a new, larger shelter this year due to conflicts with the town’s zoning ordinance. The Shelter Task Force designed to help the issue cited affordable housing as one of the “leading causes” of local homelessness in a recent report.

Sarah Brown, the library’s manager of adult services, said staff hope the forums are just the “beginning of a conversation,” and they teach residents about affordable housing.

“I can’t speak to the economics, but I’ve truly heard a lot of concern about affordable housing,” she said. “Not just (low income) and subsidized housing, but affordable housing that’s adequate and attainable across the entire market of workers and families.”

She said rental prices and home buying rates, for instance, should be included in that category. 

Brown said she was inspired to hold the series after reading a blog post from James Myall, a policy analyst with the Maine Center for Economic Policy. 

Myall will speak during the first session of the series, which will explore the many reasons why people might lose their housing, including “financial fragility,” according to the library.

When reading Myall’s blog post, Brown said a specific statistic caught her eye: if met with an unexpected expense of $400, one in four Mainers, or 45 percent of people statewide, reported they would need to borrow money or sell something to cover the bill.

“That’s incredibly fragile,” Brown said. 

The Oct. 18 event will also feature presentations from Cullen Ryan, the executive director of Community Housing of Maine and chairman of the Statewide Homelessness Council, and Giff Jameson, operations manager at Tedford Housing.

The following session will explore the “current and projected” landscape of affordable housing in the local and regional markets. 

Speakers will include John Hodge, executive director of the Brunswick and Topsham Housing Authority; Kevin Bunker, founder of Developers Collaborative; and Jane Millett, town councilor and local realtor. 

The final session will feature six panelists discussing new approaches and funding opportunities to address housing affordability.

Greg Payne, director of the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition; Matt Panfil, director of Brunswick Planning and Development; and Carol Eyerman, assistant planner for Topsham will speak.

They will also be joined by Bill Floyd, executive director of Genesis Community Loan Fund, Debora Keller, executive director of Bath Housing, and Mark Primeau, executive director of Habitat for Humanity/7 Rivers Maine. 

Brown said the library has held community programs in the past on what she called other “hot topics,” such as social justice issues and browntail moths.

“Part of our vision is to be a focal point of community life; we’re a safe, trusted environment in which the community’s needs can be discussed,” she said.

She also said a lack of affordable housing is “beyond a Brunswick issue,” and is a problem in other towns in the Mid-Coast, too.

She also hopes the forum can give attendees ideas of how to support issues related to affordable housing such as promoting the use of tax credits, and telling people where they can find emergency assistance or donate items. 

“It’s the beginning,” she said. “It’s a conversation that we hope will lead to action.”

Elizabeth Clemente can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or eclemente@theforecaster.net. Follow Elizabeth on Twitter @epclemente

Curtis Memorial Library will host three community conversations on affordable housing this month and in November.

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