James Tager is the superintendent of the Bangor School Department. Scott Oxley is the president of Northern Light Acadia Hospital.
Everyone should have the safety, opportunity and peace of mind that comes from being able to afford a decent place to live. Homes are where opportunity begins: to learn, work and build a life.
Unfortunately, stable housing is out of reach for many of our community members. A shortage of affordable and available rental homes, increasing evictions, and insufficient housing vouchers contribute to housing insecurity and homelessness for far too many people in Maine.
Renters are particularly vulnerable as they tend to have lower incomes and more precarious living arrangements. Maine’s rental housing market is one of the least affordable in the nation. Close to half of low-income households pay more than 50 percent of their income on rent. This means that any unexpected bill, such as an unexpected car repair, or unexpected loss of income, such as having to stay home to care for a sick child, will result in a family not being able to pay their rent that month. An increasing number of people are facing eviction because they are unable to afford their rent.
Renters who are low-income or from historically marginalized communities are often disproportionately affected by housing instability and evictions. Evictions disproportionately affect people of color, women, and specifically women of color. Nationally, more than 60 percent of Black women renters are cost burdened, making them even more vulnerable for eviction filings. In Maine, Black women renters face eviction at more than double the rate of white renters.
Housing stability is a critical component of health and well-being for individuals, families, and communities. When people have stable, affordable housing, they are more likely to have access to healthy food, medical care, and educational opportunities. In contrast, unstable housing conditions can lead to a range of negative health outcomes, including chronic stress, depression, physical illnesses and decreased life expectancy.
When families have to move frequently or struggle to afford housing, their children may experience disruptions in their education. Research shows that frequent moves can negatively impact children’s academic achievement and increase their likelihood of dropping out of school. Additionally, living in overcrowded or unsafe housing can expose children to environmental hazards that can affect their health and cognitive development.
Housing instability can have ripple effects on entire communities. When families are forced to leave their homes due to rising housing costs, neighborhoods can become less stable and cohesive. This can lead to a breakdown in social networks and community bonds, making it more difficult for residents to support one another and work together to address common challenges.
Housing stability is also closely linked to economic stability. When families spend a large portion of their income on housing, they struggle to pay for other necessities, such as food, transportation, and healthcare. This can lead to a cycle of financial hardship that can be difficult to break.
Whether focused on education, health care, our workforce, or adequate social services and community support, access to safe, affordable housing for renters is fundamental. We all have an interest in finding and implementing solutions that increase stable, affordable rental housing across the state. For this reason, we joined 92 other organizations from various sectors to send a message to policymakers in Augusta urging them to advance comprehensive solutions to increase housing stability this year.
In order to promote housing stability for renters, it is important that policy makers take a multi-faceted approach that addresses: housing availability; housing affordability; eviction prevention; discrimination and enforcement of existing laws; and support services that enable people to access and maintain housing. All five areas are critically important and intersect when it comes to increasing housing stability for renters.
Maine needs more housing, and we also must ensure that new housing made available is actually affordable to people with limited means. We must do what we can to prevent unnecessary evictions and to provide protections for people who lose their rental housing through no fault of their own. Maine’s lack of stable housing for renters stems from a number of factors and the solutions, in turn, must be multifaceted and comprehensive.
Together we can tackle this complex issue that matters so much to Maine residents, our communities, and our economy. To do that, we must take a comprehensive approach to increase stability for renters in Maine. The health of children and families — and the future prosperity and vibrancy of our communities — depends on it.