Proposed bill aims to address Maine's affordable housing crisis
Maine has a dire shortage of affordable housing. Advocates say that the state needs to add 1,000 affordable units a year to meet demand, but until recently, only 250 units were being added. To address the shortage, a new bipartisan bill was unveiled in Brunswick today.
The bill aims to pave the way for affordable housing development that's both large and small - including something called accessory dwelling units, or ADUs. They're small homes, like the one Chris Lee is standing in front of in a residential area in Brunswick. The tidy, green, one-story ADU with a bright yellow door is less than 800 square feet, and it's just steps away from the slightly larger home his family lives in.
"We wanted to show what's possible in Maine backyards if this ADU bylaw gets into place," says Lee.
He owns a business that builds accessory dwelling units, including this one. Lee says ADUs are an affordable option for families who need a home for older parents or adult children returning home from college who can't afford a place on their own. The problem is, many municipalities don't allow these kinds of dwellings to be built. The proposed legislation would change that. It's sponsored by Democratic Speaker of the House Ryan Fecteau.
"Our housing crisis requires that we take action to better use land currently restricted to single family homes and empower people to build housing on the land they already own. On their own properties," says Fecteau.
The bill would allow homeowners to build ADUs. It would also allow structures with up to four living units wherever residential housing is permitted. They're just two of several components of the bill, which would implement the recommendations of an affordable housing commission released in December. And it has bipartisan support, including Republican Representative Amy Arata.
"I'm proud to cosponsor this bill which includes a free market solution to housing shortages and honors property rights," says Arata.
The bill, which has a fiscal note of $4.5 million, would also incentivize municipalities through grants and programs to change zoning laws as well as ensure that affordable housing developments remain affordable for 30 years. Auburn Mayor Jason Levesque says the city has already adopted most of the recommendations outlined in the legislation, and he's urging other municipal leaders to do the same.
"There is no silver bullet that will fix our statewide housing crisis. That's going to take meaningful and sometimes difficult conversations about inclusivity. About fairness," says Levesque. "This isn't an issue that other towns have. This is our issue, Maine's issue. We must act regionally. After all, housing growth in Auburn helps grow the workforce in Portland and vice versa."
Speaker Fecteau says Maine has made recent progress in increasing affordable housing units. Using the affordable housing tax credit and American Rescue Plan funds, more than 500 units were built last year - about double historic averages and inching closer to the estimated thousand per year that are needed. Supporters of the proposed legislation say they hope to keep that momentum going.