Nearly 33,000 Maine households — and growing — are on the waiting list for about 14,000 affordable housing units. They’re likely to stay on that list for years until one comes open, meanwhile paying so much in rent and utilities that there’s not much left for anything else.

And it’s a statewide problem, made worse in recent years as housing costs rose faster than wages. Now, nowhere in Maine can a person making the average renter’s income, much less someone on Social Security or disability, afford to pay for the average two-bedroom apartment.

And each year, only about 250 new affordable housing units are built in Maine.

It’s a problem that leaves many Mainers overburdened by housing costs, and holds back the state economy. To solve it, Maine needs to encourage more affordable housing, the kind that the market just isn’t providing.

That’s where L.D. 1645 comes in. Held over from last session, the bill from Rep. Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, with bipartisan support, would create an $80 million state affordable housing tax credit.

The state credit would leverage tens of millions of dollars in federal funds and fill a financing gap that is now holding back housing production. Once deployed, it could double the new affordable units built each year, perhaps creating 1,000 new units over four years.

The bill recognizes that housing affordability is a statewide problem. It exists not only in the greater Portland area, where housing costs are forcing workers to live farther from their jobs even as the need for workers in the city expands, but throughout the state — 20% of the credit must be targeted at rural areas.

In addition, 30% would be set aside for housing for seniors, a growing need in Maine that is only going to worsen in coming years.

Ten percent of the credit would be used to preserve affordable housing built about four decades ago through a U.S. Department of Agriculture program that backed low-interest mortgages and provided rental assistance, mostly for seniors and the disabled.

According to the Bangor Daily News, there are 6,200 of those units in Maine, and the state could lose 2,500 of them by 2030 as their mortgages mature and their owners are allowed to drop them out of the program.

Losing 2,500 units would be devastating. And even if Maine were able to continue on as it has been, 250 new affordable units a year just isn’t going to cut it.

To make a difference, Maine must save the affordable housing now in use and build much more. The bill before the Legislature would go a long way toward making that happen — and making sure every Mainer has a chance at a safe, affordable place to live.

 


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