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Maine's New Senior Housing Advisor Hopes To Speed Up Development Of Affordable Units

Greg Payne knows the frustrations of building affordable housing first hand. Payne spent 15 years as chair of the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition, and was a development officer at Avesta, which has built, acquired and preserve affordable housing in Maine.

Office of Gov. Janet Mills
Greg Payne was appointed the senior advisor for housing policy to Gov. Janet Mills in Sept. 2021.

Governor Janet Mills Tuesday formally announced Payne's hiring as a Senior Adviser on Housing on Tuesday.

Payne says, in recent years, Maine has seen construction of about 250 affordable housing units a year.

But with a need estimated at 15,000 to 20,000 units, Payne says, "We're not going to get there anytime soon if we stay at that pace of 250 new units a year."

The Mills Administration is aiming to increase that rate to 1,000 units a year.

Payne says $50 million in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, plus the state's affordable housing tax credit, and other state resources will help.

But Payne says it will be important to use those resources "strategically," and spread them out over several years to "expand the pipeline" of affordable housing effectively.

Payne says one of his worries is a shortage of construction workers in the state, which could drive construction costs higher. Another obstacle is zoning, which often limits density and raises costs.

Payne says a commission championed by Maine House Speaker Ryan Fecteau will be looking at that.

Payne says some communities might be willing to loosen zoning rules a bit, but just don't have the staff expertise to make that happen. Payne says he hopes some money is put toward providing the technical assistance those towns need to re-write zoning rules to enable more affordable housing.