Speaker Fecteau, Sen. Hickman applaud commission’s work, and recommendations 
A home in rural Solon, Maine. Even in rural areas homes are unaffordable. During the pandemic home retail prices went up over 20 percent, and so did rental rates. Photo by Ramona du Houx

By Ramona du Houx

“Working on the Commission to Increase Housing Opportunities in Maine Studying Zoning and Land Use Restrictions was a revealing process. While doing this work it became apparent the need for urgency and action,” said Commissioner Anthony Jackson. “The brutal reality is that people in what is now known as Maine are unable to affordably keep roofs over their heads. What needs to be stressed also, is the severe impact this has on communities of color; specifically black Mainers. It is important to recognize the inequality that shapes this environment and center this problem when proposing solutions. It is my belief that these recommendations alone will not fix the current housing crisis we are in, but with intentional implementation of anti-exclusionary zoning policy, we can take steps to make sure housing is treated as a human right in Maine.”

This month, Speaker Ryan Fecteau and Sen. Craig Hickman chaired the final meeting of the Commission to Increase Housing Opportunities in Maine by Studying Zoning and Land Use Restrictions. The Commission began meeting in August, covering Maine’s current approach to zoningmunicipal issues involving zoning, the historical role of race and racism in zoning policies, and how land use and zoning laws affect housing in Maine, among other topics. 

In their final report released on December 28, the Commission recognized the immediate need to increase housing opportunities in Maine and the need to plan for increased housing opportunities in the future. They published nine recommendations to help municipalities produce more affordable housing. 

“Because we had experts from real estate, agricultural and the environment, civil rights groups, municipality management, the builder and developer communities, and legislators on both sides of the aisle come together to work on this report, we feel these recommendations will actually help move Maine communities to a place where they can better meet the housing needs of our citizens.” said Speaker Ryan Fecteau. “We know Mainers are facing an affordable housing crisis. In too many municipalities, a web of various zoning and land use ordinances and state laws, some decades old, are preventing sensible affordable housing projects — big and small — from coming to fruition. Our commission was thoughtful about how Maine can grow the supply of housing through new construction and how we can incentivize the revitalization of buildings and housing stock that already exists across Maine.”

“I was honored to co-chair this emergency Commission, where members and staff alike went above and beyond to get it done. Every commissioner agreed that access to safe, affordable housing is a fundamental human right. This belief guided our work as we deliberated the bold recommendations compiled in this report,” said Sen. Hickman, who also serves as Senate Chair of the Legislature’s Labor and Housing Committee. “Maine is facing an affordable housing crisis. Every week, I hear from people in my community who are directly impacted by it. While I know there is much work ahead of us, the Commission’s recommendations represent a firm step in the right direction to ensure that all Mainers have a roof over their heads and a safe place to call home.”

According to the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition, 1 in 5 Maine renters pay more than half their income toward housing costs, and, for every family living in an affordable, federally subsidized unit, nearly three families are on a waiting list.

“Governor Mills recognizes the urgent need to address the availability of affordable housing for Maine people. As a member of this Commission, I’m proud that we were able to deliver significant, consensus recommendations that have the potential to expand housing opportunities in Maine,” said Hannah Pingree, Director of the Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation and the Future and Commission Member. “I am grateful for the leadership of Speaker Fecteau who initiated and led the work of this commission so ably, with co-chair Senator Hickman. The positive engagement by Maine’s cities and towns in the Commission’s work was welcome, and I look forward to their continued partnership to address this crucial issue.” 

Rep. Fecteau’s bill to establish the Commission, LD 609, “Resolve, To Establish a Commission To Increase Housing Opportunities in Maine by Studying Zoning and Land Use Restrictions” was passed into law this year as an effort to tackle systemic issues holding Maine back from building and renovating more affordable housing. 

“Housing issues are no longer simply a ‘big city’ issue. Municipal officials in urban, suburban and rural areas alike have witnessed significant increases in both the number and value of home sales, which in turn have or will place additional property tax burdens on lifelong homeowners and impact the availability of affordable and workforce housing in our communities,” said Commissioner Kate Dufour, Director of Maine Municipal Association. “For municipalities to be able to implement our recommendations, we need to honor Maine’s spirit of local control while providing towns and cities the resources and incentives to develop the ordinances necessary to facilitate the construction of affordable housing in our communities.  A state, municipal, private sector collaboration is key to these efforts.”

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