Credit: George Danby | BDN

We want a Maine where communities are thriving and all Mainers can afford a good, safe home. Where we live shapes our lives — and it’s why so many of us choose to live here in Maine. We live in a beautiful place full of innovative, hard-working people who will drop everything to help you dig your car out of a snowbank.

And yet, many of those same folks are having a hard time making rent payments. Mainers’ incomes have not kept up with housing costs, which makes housing less affordable for many of us. This problem is hitting people across all income brackets and is especially challenging for renters and those on fixed and lower incomes.

It’s in our state’s economic interest to build housing that Maine people can afford, and it’s the right thing to do. This is an enormous challenge with many moving parts, but it’s not unsolvable. Legislators, housing experts and housing advocates have worked hard on a key piece of legislation aimed at overcoming this challenge, and its fate will soon be decided by the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee.

LD 1645 would allocate $80 million in tax credits to build new housing that is affordable for Mainers. The bill is a prime example of good public policy. It has demonstrated effectiveness in 16 other states, and is a tool that has proven successful for more than 30 years right here in Maine. At MaineHousing, we’ve used federal tax credits successfully since 1986, which is critical to building homes that Mainers can afford. Without these tax credits, affordable housing would be nearly impossible to build.

Yet, what we’ve built isn’t enough – we need more affordable homes. The need for them is significant. The list of people waiting for housing assistance is more than 17,000 — with a wait of five years or more. Housing affordability in Maine has declined since 2017; the average Mainers’ salary doesn’t cover the average rental unit cost. We know that rising rent costs all over the state and stagnant incomes are leaving more and more Mainers vulnerable to losing their homes every day.

LD 1645 is a bipartisan piece of legislation that would double the number of units built over four years. It is designed to fit seamlessly into MaineHousing’s existing, successful tax credit program. Passage of this bill would increase the amount of federal tax credits Maine receives, providing more resources to address housing affordability. Additionally, 20 percent of the tax credits would go toward rural development, because housing shortages and affordability aren’t just urban problems, they are problems across our state.

Many of the major issues Maine policymakers grapple with — supporting an aging population, the opioid crisis, economic development — come back to housing (or the lack thereof). We know that stable, affordable housing reduces reliance on general assistance, and is shown to break generational poverty cycles. Stable housing people can afford is key to improving the health and wellness of Maine people — and to attracting workers and keeping them here.

We must act — and a significant part of the solution is in front of us now. The Legislature’s Taxation Committee unanimously agreed to this solution. The Maine House of Representatives voted to pass this measure 132-4. We just need the Appropriations Committee to agree.

Where we live shapes our lives. Maine is full of amazing people, communities and possibilities. And the possibilities for Maine are endless when we build quality homes that Mainers can afford. It means more young people (which we are desperate to recruit and keep in Maine) and healthier people and communities. It means breaking generational poverty and eventually spending less on general assistance and other social services.

It means investing in the Maine we want: a place where everyone can afford a good, safe home. LD 1645 is an important investment where we will see the returns for generations to come. We urge the Appropriations Committee to pass LD 1645.

Daniel Brennan is the director of MaineHousing, Maine’s state housing finance agency.