Last week, developers canceled plans to construct an affordable housing complex in the affluent town of Cape Elizabeth following a referendum campaign by residents in opposition to the project. The project, the first of its kind in Cape in 50 years, faced backlash from the start in a town where the average two-bedroom apartment is unaffordable to anyone making less than $92,000 a year.
“It’s an unfortunate loss for the community of Cape Elizabeth,” said Cape Elizabeth Town Council Chairman Jamie Garvin. “Affordable housing is something that is needed throughout the Greater Portland area and all of Maine. There are thousands of people in need of affordable and attainable housing. Every community in the area has a role to play in contributing to a solution to that problem.”
This project shutdown is symptomatic of a larger problem: Maine has a major shortage of affordable housing. According to housing experts, this is a problem that has existed for well over a decade, but it has become increasingly worse since the pandemic. Large, less populous states like Maine have become popular among out-of-state buyers seeking to leave major cities like Boston and New York. Experts estimate that the state currently lacks about 20,000 affordable housing units, and the state builds an average of just 230 units per year. At that rate, barring any other change in demand, it would take 87 years to cover the shortage.
This is unacceptable. Mainers are being pushed out of their communities by rent increases, which creates a ripple effect in employment, education, and more.
Some Maine communities are starting to take up the torch that Cape Elizabeth dropped. Bath, Skowhegan, and Portland are building 300 apartments between them using an $80 million tax credit program created by the Maine Legislature and Governor Mills in 2020. This program, the single largest investment in housing in the state’s history, aims to build nearly 1,000 affordable housing units over the next eight years. Another $50 million in federal funding allocated from the American Recovery Plan will be used to build additional units.
Governor Mills and the Maine Legislature have worked diligently to make the available housing supply affordable. They passed a series of bills to this end in 2021, including:
LD 609: This law creates a commission to review barriers to producing more affordable housing in Maine.
LD 953: This law helps cities and towns cover the cost of building affordable housing units both within and outside development districts to reduce homelessness.
LD 1645: This law creates a statewide affordable housing tax credit, half of which is reserved for building new housing for seniors and residents of rural areas.
The supplemental budget includes measures to permanently extend the Property Tax Fairness Credit to an additional 83,000 Mainers.
Mainers for Working Families applauds the Maine Legislature and Governor Mills for investing so heavily in addressing the affordable housing crisis in Maine. While more is needed to resolve the situation, we hope they continue their efforts to help Mainers afford a roof over their heads.