Maine Governor Signs Two Bills to Expand Availability of Affordable Housing

Maine Governor Janet Mills signed two bills into law on April 27 to address Maine’s shortage of affordable housing. LD 2003 eliminates all single-family zoning restrictions, allows accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in all zoning districts, provides support for communities to increase affordable housing, and reduces regulatory barriers to multi-family housing development. LD 201 extends an historic property rehabilitation tax credit, which can help finance affordable housing development. The Maine Affordable Housing Coalition (MAHC), an NLIHC state partner, led advocacy efforts that ultimately helped bring about the passage of both bills.

In 2021, the Maine legislature established the Commission to Increase Housing Opportunities by Studying Zoning and Land Use Restrictions, which released a report in December 2021 outlining its recommendations. LD 2003 incorporated each recommendation and was introduced in February 2022 by House Speaker Ryan Fecteau (D-Biddeford). The Maine Municipal Association raised continual objections to the bill, leading to a scaled-back version that omitted provisions to create a state-level housing appeals board to review denials of affordable housing projects and block municipal growth caps. The revised bill received bipartisan support, and, despite the omissions, advocates view it as an important step toward addressing the state’s affordable housing crisis.

According to research published in NLIHC’s report The Gap: A Shortage of Affordable Homes, Maine is experiencing a shortage of nearly 20,000 homes available and affordable to extremely low-income renters, with only 51 homes for every 100 renters with extremely low incomes (ELI). Fifty-eight percent of ELI renters spend more than half of their incomes on rent, often sacrificing food, healthcare, and other basic needs. NLIHC’s Out of Reach report shows that the average wage needed to afford a two-bedroom apartment is $21.39 an hour, far above Maine’s minimum wage of $12.15 an hour. Across the country, systemic racism has left people of color more likely to be among the lowest-income renters facing a shortage of affordable housing, and people of color in Maine are likely to suffer disproportionately from the effects of housing insecurity caused by lost income during the pandemic.

A diverse coalition of more than 140 private and public sector organizations committed to ensuring that all Mainers are adequately and affordably housed, MAHC made LD 2003 a top priority bill in its 2022 state advocacy work. MAHC successfully mobilized the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, AARP Maine, National Resource Council of Maine, Maine Association of Planners, Maine Community Action Partnership, Grow Smart ME, and other organizations to bring about the passage of LD 2003. Supporters gave hours of testimony and sent hundreds of emails to their lawmakers.

We know that our state is facing a crisis in providing homes for those who need them most,” said Laura Mitchell, director of MAHC. “MAHC is so pleased that our partners in the state house and legislature understand that for the health and economy of Maine, we must expand opportunities for affordable homes in all communities. LD 2003 is a step in that direction. We have more work to do and believe that everyone has a role in making sure that all residents and new Mainers can find a home to thrive here.”

Governor Mills signed LD 2003 and LD 201 into law on April 27 at the renovated Hodgkins School Apartments in Augusta, an affordable housing community for seniors that was financed using the Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit. MAHC will continue to push for more resources and policies to meet the needs of Maine’s lowest-income residents, and the organizations has offered suggestions about how everyone can play a role in solving the affordable housing crisis.

For more information about MAHC and these advocacy efforts, please contact Laura Mitchell at [email protected]