Planning board members Ward Gerow (left), Bruce Roope (center) and Dave Perry (right) discuss housing with the Presque Isle City Council at a joint meeting on Jan. 20. Credit: David Diminno / The Star-Herald

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — It would take less than two months to sell all of the property on the market in Presque Isle if no new houses are listed.

That is what real estate broker Jane Towle of RE/MAX County told city officials during a recent joint meeting of Presque Isle’s city council and planning board to talk about affordable housing and development.

Presque Isle is seeing a 7.9 percent increase in units sold over the past year, with a price increase of 18 percent, said Towle, who has 32 years experience in real estate, including 18 in Maine. Although these numbers are for one city, they reflect what is going on in Aroostook County as a whole, she said. In comparison, Cumberland County has seen an 11 percent decrease in units sold because of the low number of properties available there.

Aroostook County for years has had a glut of housing inventory available, which depressed sale prices and kept homes on the market for months and even years. That trend ended during the pandemic, when more people sought Aroostook’s rural areas to escape the concentrations of COVID-19 outbreaks in more populated areas.

Towle also told the boards that people are looking for safety and security, privacy, water rights, freedom and lifestyle when they shop for housing in northern Maine. Price and weather are far smaller concerns now than they once were. Market trends show that people are investing in Presque Isle, and in Aroostook County, she said.

In terms of developing affordable housing options, buyers are seeking one-story living quarters with three bedrooms and two bathrooms for less than $300,000, she said.

In order to draw more people and to increase available housing, the city would have to appeal to all price markets at the same time, not just to low income or middle class housing, Council Chairperson Kevin Freeman said.

With a good team of builders, construction of a new home such as the one Towle described would take anywhere from nine to 12 months, according to Troy Haney of Haney’s Building Specialties.

The ideal development for the city would be a single-story building containing from six to eight units, Haney said. The problem with the timing for developing such a building is that construction costs are up 25 percent and it’s difficult to hire workers, he said.

There is a major need for additional housing for people with low incomes, according to Jennifer Sweetser, executive director of the Presque Isle Housing Authority, who added that she has seen 25 people with section 8 vouchers who don’t have a place to live. Section 8 is a federal housing program, which helps those with lower incomes afford monthly rent.

“Nobody has built in the city since 2008, and now we are all playing catch-up,” Councilor Freeman said. “Everyone is going to be trying to build more properties, and it’s really about who does it first.”

There is no immediate solution to the city’s housing issues, but city leadership should be encouraging further development, he said.

The Planning Board suggested creating a committee that would generate ideas to improve affordable housing in the city. Freeman said the proposal would be added to February’s council agenda.

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David DiMinno

David grew up in New York, and moved to Maine to study political science at the University of Maine. In his spare time, he loves hiking, playing tennis and skiing.