L.D. 1645, An Act To Create Affordable Workforce and Senior Housing and Preserve Affordable Rural Housing, is a bipartisan bill carried over from last year and under consideration by the current Legislature. It would fund a $20 million annual affordable housing tax credit, which, over its four-year span, could help pay for 250 new units a year, or about 1,000 homes, approximately doubling the new low-income homes being built in Maine. It is a statewide initiative, with 30 percent of the credit allocated to new housing units for seniors and 20 percent targeted for rural areas.

The need for this program is clear. Over 32,000 low-income Maine families are now on the waiting list for affordable housing. Last year over 4,000 households applied for an affordable home at the state’s largest nonprofit housing agency, but only 373 received help. Over 35,000 renter households, spread throughout all areas of Maine, are severely rent-burdened, paying more than half of their income for rent and utilities.

The urgency of this need, however, goes far beyond the raw numbers. Housing insecurity, including unsustainable housing costs, poor housing quality, overcrowding and/or homelessness, has a variety of negative consequences for both children and adults. Without stable housing, children’s school attendance and performance often suffer because of frequent moves, inconsistent family or caregiver schedules and lack of reliable transportation. Researchers at Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan released a study in 2018 finding that housing instability is by far the greatest predictor of students’ chronic absenteeism from school. The authors pointed out that chronically absent students are less likely to meet grade-level standards and more likely to drop out. They recommended making greater investments in affordable housing to combat housing instability and ensure stable, affordable homes for vulnerable families.

In a 2016 article in the journal Social Problems, social scientists at Harvard provided evidence that housing insecurity affects employment.  Analyzing data from a renter survey, the researchers found that workers facing eviction and/or enduring forced moves may, because of the emotional stress of seeking housing and longer commutes, have an increased likelihood of tardiness, absenteeism and impaired work performance, which in turn leads to job loss.

Because many families can afford only substandard housing, health issues may arise, related to the presence of lead, asbestos or other toxins. Additionally, when allocating too much of household income to housing costs, other critical needs, such as food and medical care for both children and adults, may be neglected, potentially affecting the ability to go to school or work. In many cases, seniors, who rely on fixed incomes, forgo the basics and may be the most seriously affected. “When families don’t have stable housing, their risk of struggling with poor health outcomes and material hardships, such as food insecurity, increases,” as Science Daily summarized a study by Boston Medical Center’s Children’s HealthWatch. We all pay for this: Children’s HealthWatch estimates that housing instability will cost the health care industry around $111 billion over the next decade.

Providing access to secure and affordable housing allows low-income families to direct their resources more optimally for food, medical care, transportation and other basic needs, potentially reducing the long-term societal costs associated with neglected care and unemployment and improving school and work attendance. For these reasons L.D. 1645 has been recognized as a critical priority by the Thrive2027 Council, an initiative comprised of area business, education and nonprofit leaders and led by the United Way of Greater Portland. With these implications in mind, as a Thrive2027 Council member, I would urge you to encourage your legislators to pass and fully fund L.D. 1645.

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