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Dana Connors is the president of the Maine State Chamber. Jeff Levine is the director of the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition.
Ask any Maine employer what is holding back their ability to hire and this is what is on their mind: childcare, broadband, workforce training and housing. All of these deserve the attention of our policymakers, but housing is perhaps the one where the most potential for progress lives, but where regulation has historically stood in the way of making that progress possible. Simply put, housing supply is not just a social issue in Maine, it’s an economic issue.
In Maine’s economic development strategic plan, the need for workforce housing is clear. Over the next 10 years, we know we need 75,000 people to come to Maine to make up for the 65,000 who will be leaving the workforce. To deny the link between housing and our workforce needs is missing the point.
Today is the beginning of the plan to get it right. LD 2003 paves the way for us to address this issue.
There is no solution to our housing shortage that doesn’t involve increasing the supply of available units. Both private and public capital stand at the ready to invest in the creation of more housing, but in many communities zoning and land use restrictions are preventing that capital from going to work for the benefit of our state’s economy, its businesses, and its workers.
Maine has an opportunity to change course now. We support LD 2003 as a solution because it gets to the heart of our housing shortage in Maine by empowering homeowners to invest in “missing-middle” infill developments to modestly expand the number of units on their property, while making much needed larger affordable housing developments more feasible in areas already designated for growth in larger municipalities.
Provisions in this bill would allow individual property owners to build contextually appropriate buildings on their property that follow local rules, would set statewide standards for accessory dwelling unit (ADU) construction, and would provide density bonuses to developers of affordable housing building larger developments in areas chosen by towns and cities because of their potential for growth.
Maine has made tremendous progress in recent years to increase available funding for the construction of affordable housing. From investments in the Maine HOME fund, to sending American Rescue Plan Act funds straight to housing, creating affordable housing tax increment financing districts, and municipal housing trust funds like Portland’s, Maine is making
record amounts of funding available for housing production. These strategies are important, but are impaired as long local rules make it impossible to find land that can be used for new housing.
Unfortunately, our housing needs won’t be realized without regulatory reform to make building in designated growth areas more possible for both average Mainers looking to build one or two additional units on their property and multi-family developers looking to add density in historic downtown and village corridors. Throughout this process, we appreciate the ways municipal concerns have been addressed.
The continued success of Maine’s small businesses depends entirely on the ability of their workers to afford living here. Every day that goes by without progress on building more housing is another day we risk losing workers and small businesses to other more affordable states with greater housing abundance.
Until we take on this issue as a matter of statewide importance, as LD 2003 proposes to do, we cannot begin to move towards statewide housing security for all.