Suburbs say housing crunch isn't just Portland's problem

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PORTLAND — Officials from five suburban towns joined their Portland colleagues Wednesday to discuss how to expand housing in the region.

“I think the headline is the same as in any town: New development is incredibly wrenching,” Cape Elizabeth Town Planner Maureen O’Meara said during the forum at the University of Southern Maine.

The discussion, hosted by the Portland City Council Housing Committee, was also attended by officials from Scarborough, South Portland, Falmouth and Westbrook, including South Portland City Councilor Linda Cohen; Assistant City Manager and Economic Development Director Josh Reny; South Portland Housing Authority Executive Director Mike Halsey; Scarborough Senior Planner Jay Chace, and Scarborough Town Councilor Will Rowan.

Portland City Councilor Jill Duson, the committee chairwoman, organized the regional forum. It was moderated by Caroline Paras, community and economic planner at the Greater Portland Council of Governments.

The forum was opened with a presentation of local housing markets compiled by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The analysis established that demand will continue to grow in the marketing area including Cumberland, Sagadahoc and York counties.

Meeting the projected demand for an estimated 4,000 housing units for purchase and 2,000 for rent in the next three years will be daunting; HUD estimated 850 sales units and 450 rental units were under construction in the affected areas as of Oct. 1, 2015.

Chace said Scarborough added about 8,000 housing units in the last 20 years, but almost all were single-family units. He said there is more acceptance of rental units as the town tries to develop along its highly traveled corridors and reduce reliance on vehicles.

Cohen said South Portland has keyed in on increasing population density in the areas of Mill Creek and near the Maine Mall to encourage mixed-use development that adds to the housing stock.

Increased density can also support local businesses, but Reny noted it is not a citywide approach.

“It is an issue that is place-sensitive,” he said. “What we know is, people love the city and value the neighborhoods.”

Critical to the success of adding housing is the quality of the development and how it fits into existing areas, O’Meara said.

“I’ve spent a lot of time putting design standards into Cape Elizabeth regulations, because if it doesn’t look ugly, it is easier to accept,” she said.

Officials agreed more regional forums are needed, and discussed the possibility of site walks to show what has worked in the communities, but did not schedule any new joint meetings.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

South Portland City Councilor Linda Cohen, left, and Assistant City Manager Josh Reny listen to a HUD housing analysis Wednesday during a regional forum at USM in Portland.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.
  • Chew H Bird

    And I just read today that Palo Alto is considering subsidizing housing for families making less than 250k… The point is where does it stop? Living away from a city is almost always less expensive. Artificial means to subsidize lower income folks living within a city through other people’s tax dollars is morally incorrect when there are options to live outside a city for far less cost.