When trying to solve the housing crisis and alleviate homelessness, it is critical a community develop a housing strategy that will work and is based on a broad assessment of housing needs, according to Katie Spencer White, CEO of the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter in Waterville.

She emphasized that point Wednesday at the third and final virtual forum she organized to discuss poverty, housing and homelessness.

State Rep. Bruce White, D-Waterville, noted Maine is working to create affordable housing and cited a project Gov. Janet Mills and House Speaker Ryan Fecteau announced earlier this week in Skowhegan that will develop Mary Street Apartments, with 40 affordable units. The state, White said, needs about 20,000 affordable housing units and has been making incremental progress toward that goal.

“It seems like this year, they’re looking at 500,” said White, also a member of the city’s Planning Board. “I know it barely moves the needle. It’s very complex and costly but we need more money federally, no doubt.”

White, who is no relation to Katie Spencer White, said he and other state representatives are advocating for more of those types of housing developments.

“We know firsthand from this area how difficult it is,” he said, referring to the lack of adequate housing in the Waterville area.


Katie Spencer White said at an earlier forum that homelessness is not about a choice or condition, but about policy choices and how we decide to implement them.

“Money and investment is one part of the solution,” she said Wednesday.

She said some communities have restricted zoning areas where duplexes and multifamily dwellings are not allowed. She said such restrictions should be modified.

Waterville City Councilor Claude Francke, D-Ward 6, said Waterville is looking at the way it does its planning.

“I’m of the opinion that the old-style planning is what hamstrings cities in terms of their housing, and economic development as well,” he said.

He said the council formed a housing committee to make housing a priority for the city.


Waterville City Councilor Rebecca Green, D-Ward 4, heads that committee. She said she thinks being armed with basic facts is important to have at the committee’s fingertips before it can come up with solutions. The committee has been meeting twice a month, Green said.

An affordable housing project at the former Seton Hospital on Chase Avenue in Waterville is underway and about 60 units will be developed in the former Lockwood Mill building on Water Street, closest to downtown, she said.

“Housing is coming online, but of course that’s years in the future and we do need solutions now,” she said.

More than a third of the housing stock in Waterville was built before 1939, which is “a huge issue,” according to Green, who said work can be done to existing housing stock.

“Only 47 percent of the residential units are owner-occupied and that’s the lowest in the state,” she said. “We encourage more homeownership.”

Katie Spencer White noted that Maine has the oldest population in the country and the oldest housing stock. Waterville has the second-highest municipal poverty rate in the state at 28.2 percent, a number based on federal poverty guidelines. Orono is the highest at 38 percent. Augusta’s rate is 18.8 percent and Skowhegan is 19.8 percent.

Kennebec County is to receive about $57 million as part of the American Rescue Plan Act to help those impacted by COVID-19. Waterville is scheduled to receive $1.67 million.

Mills last month joined U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge to help launch House America, a national partnership to tackle homelessness. The project engages state, county, tribal and local officials to use money from the American Rescue Plan Act to build additional housing for those who are homeless. Mills said Maine will use federal funds to house 1,000 people and add 500 affordable housing units.

Mills has allocated $50 million to expand housing that would be affordable to more workers and their families through the Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan. The options are to include some housing available for rent and some for purchase.

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