Forecaster Forum: Strong communities, economic growth depend on affordable housing
More and more of our fellow residents are worried about how they will heat their homes through the winter. Even more troubling is that for another growing group of Mainers, simply finding affordable housing – let alone paying the heat bill – is becoming a major problem.
Even with the recent decline in the real estate market, finding affordable housing can be a difficult task especially for those who are renters. According to the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition, in York and Cumberland Counties the number of people looking for affordable housing, but unable to find it, number in the thousands. And according to the Census Bureau, Maine has only 52 units of affordable rental housing available for every 100 extremely low-income renters.
The ability to have a safe warm place to live is vital for individuals and families. Our ability to build strong families, strong communities and a growing economy is dependant on folks having access to housing they can afford.
Recognizing that, the Legislature took significant steps last year to increase access to affordable housing across the state. The Legislature authorized MaineHousing (formerly the Maine State Housing Authority) to issue revenue bonds for the construction and rehabilitation of energy-efficient and affordable housing. The first $30 million of what could eventually amount to $200 million in bonds will be issued this summer. The bonds will be paid for with existing state resources by dedicating a portion of the current real estate transfer tax for bond repayment.
MaineHousing will have significant flexibility, so that these funds can support large and small projects, as well as creative ideas that use existing buildings, rather than rely on new construction. These guidelines will help smaller communities that have a need for affordable housing to support smaller projects that meet their needs. Similarly, by allowing for the rehabilitation of older buildings, communities can grow and prosper without making significant changes to neighborhoods or building new costly infrastructure to support a project.
While the law does suggest targets on how to spend the funds (in particular, it recommends funds for seniors, families, and those with special needs) it does not mandate them. Rather, it allows MaineHousing the discretion to use the funds in the best manner possible and to support the best projects that come forward.
While this work will not fill all the needs for affordable housing, it is one piece of the puzzle. Along with local and private resources and new ideas we hopefully can continue to close the gap for those who seek affordable housing.
There is also an exciting South Portland project taking shape that will bring nine affordable housing units for adults with disabilities to our community. The project known as 20 E Street is the first of its kind in Maine, and will provide disabled adults with an opportunity for home ownership.
By combining private resources with limited state support, individuals can own their own homes and become part of a community, while still receiving professional support that is often only available in a costly and less-stable group home setting. I am excited to see this innovative project take shape and look forward to it opening next spring.
Democrat Terry K. Morrison represents District 122, part of South Portland, in the state House of Representatives. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 831-0828.