Louis Ouellette of Locbid Construction guides a crane operator over the radio as a panel of cross laminated timber for an elevator shaft gets hoisted into place at an Avesta Housing building site in Portland on July 2, 2020. Credit: BDN file photo

Good morning from Augusta. We are holding a listening session for politics readers on Thursday, July 29. Register here.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “That era was different. Competition was fierce in those little towns and winning was so special. It kind of put those kids on the map,” said Pauline Conley, wife of the Railroaders’ head coach of the time, the late Carroll Conley, reminiscing about when the basketball team at the now-closed Brownville Junction High School played under a unique scoreboard that has been refurbished. Here’s your soundtrack.

What we’re watching today

A surge in interest in Maine properties has worsened the challenges facing those seeking affordable housing. Bringing more people into the state has been cited as a key part of Maine’s economic future as the population ages. But the super-competitive housing market spurred by the pandemic poses challenges for the state’s short-term recovery.

A study from the National Low Income Housing Coalition found Maine had the ninth largest gap between the income of the average renter and what is needed to afford a two-bedroom rental. Last year, the median monthly cost of $1,062 for a two-bedroom apartment or a $255,000 house was out of reach for most Mainers, the state’s housing authority found. A record number of home sales last year has made it harder for first-time buyers to find a home, a situation that has diminished turnover and forced some families to scramble to find housing.

The Legislature has taken some steps to address the problem. It approved a bill from Maine House Speaker Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, to study restrictive zoning and land-use practices in the state that make building challenging. There is $50 million in Maine’s American Rescue Plan Act plan to build more affordable housing, with Republicans opposing $20 million set aside for firms who sign agreements with labor unions on their projects. But they will not address the immediate issues facing the state.

The upcoming end of a moratorium and forbearance programs could drive up foreclosures in the short term, but don’t expect it to look like 2009. Pandemic relief programs that barred foreclosures on the state and federal levels throughout the pandemic will end on July 31, while delayed loan payments will end in or around September. While banks expect default rates to bump up, individual aid programs will likely leave many in a place to get back on track. Plus, the hot housing market provides possible outs for those who cannot. 

Those features distinguish this recovery from the one after the Great Recession, but despite aid programs staving off the worst of the pandemic recession, the recovery is still both uneven and uncertain. The affordable housing problem is one that has long plagued the state.

The Maine politics top 3

— “Rick Bennett has fought in Maine’s biggest political battles since his State House return,” Caitlin Andrews, BDN: “[Sen. Rick Bennett’s] trajectory this session has at times aligned him with Democrats and led him to actively defy his own party. He notably was one of two Republican defectors who ensured a supplemental budget passed in March. But his deep ties to the GOP and loyalty on key party issues make him a valuable member, while his willingness to forge bipartisan alliances and engage the media show a drive to get his message across through whatever avenues are available.”

— “A tour coming to Belfast aims to ‘save America,’ but critics fear it will spread far-right radicalization,” Abigail Curtis, BDN: “Richard Mack is a marquee speaker of the Arise USA! The Resurrection Tour that is making its only stop in Maine at the Crosby Center in downtown Belfast Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. The former Arizona sheriff is also the founder of the Constitutional Sheriffs & Peace Officers Association, an organization that believes that county sheriffs have powers that supersede those of any other law enforcement officer, including federal officers.”

A Republican legislator and a top purveyor of COVID-19 misinformation are on the roster of speakers. An online listing says state Rep. Heidi Sampson, R-Alfred, and Dr. Christiane Northrup will speak at the event. Sampson was one of seven lawmakers to get booted from their committees by Fecteau after a mask-rules protest in May. Northrup, a retired gynecologist who gained fame as an author and has been called one of the nation’s biggest spreaders of misinformation about vaccines and the coronavirus, had her Instagram account suspended earlier this year.

— “Nursing homes face ongoing staff shortages – a problem that predates the pandemic,” The Maine Monitor: “At least one study prior to the pandemic linked high use of contracted staff to negative health outcomes for residents. And as COVID-19 reached congregate living settings, experts worried that workers moving between facilities could cause outbreaks.”

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Jessica Piper, Caitlin Andrews and Michael Shepherd. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, you can sign up to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning here.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but contact the political team at candrews@bangordailynews.com, jpiper@bangordailynews.com or mshepherd@bangordailynews.com.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...