It’s disappointing to see some of the boldest elements pulled from an affordable housing bill now before the Legislature.

But if that’s what it takes to pass the still-sweeping legislation, then so be it. The housing crisis in Maine is too big, and hits too many people, to pass up the opportunity.

The bill passed a legislative committee this week, but only after two of its most assertive initiatives were stricken following criticism that they encroached too heavily on local decision-making.

No longer will the bill ban cities and towns from placing caps on the number of housing permits allowed, nor will there be a statewide permit appeals board with the power to overrule local authorities.

Also gone is a requirement that municipalities designate areas near community resources, such as shopping, schools and transportation, as a priority for development.

However, the bill still will require towns to allow accessory apartments and the development of four-unit dwellings wherever single-family homes are allowed. It also includes density incentives for affordable housing, and provides grants and technical assistance for towns to review their land-use rules.


The density incentives will make affordable housing development a more attractive investment across the state.

As a result of the other changes, people will be able to put more units of housing on a given plot of land. Municipalities will have the resources to guide development to the areas of town where it makes sense.

That is, if they want to. Far too few affordable housing units have been developed in Maine over the last decade, in large part because of restrictive local zoning rules. Too many cities and towns have ignored their obligation to help create affordable housing, leaving Maine in a crisis.

The median home price has gone up 38% in two years and is now far out of reach for most Mainers. Rent is just as high, if not higher.

Few people have been left unaffected. Renters are stuck in substandard housing, far from services and employment, and cannot save for a home. Families can’t find a place to put down roots. Seniors can’t downsize. Employers can’t find affordable homes for their workers, not only in the Portland area, but in Aroostook and Washington counties too.

The cause is lack of supply. Maine is short an estimated 25,000 affordable housing units and until recently was only building a couple hundred a year. Even building more market-rate units would raise supply and lower prices.


But Maine hasn’t been able to fully respond to the crisis, in good part because of restrictions placed on development by communities that favor single-family housing and large housing lots.

With the growth-cap ban and appeals board gone from the bill, communities will still be able to block affordable housing. By doing so, they shirk their responsibility to help make Maine a good place to live for residents of all stripes, current and future.

Fortunately, there are some communities who take this responsibility seriously.

Auburn has been eliminating housing restrictions in order to “provide housing of all kinds that is attainable by people regardless of their income or background,” as Mayor Jason Levesque put it, part of his plan to build 2,000 additional units in the city by 2025.

In Westbrook, which expanded its downtown zone to encourage development, new construction can be seen up and down Main Street, 133 units were added last year and 476 more are under review.

In addition to measures passed by the Legislature in 2019, communities like Westbrook and Auburn are the reason 454 new affordable units were built last year statewide, and another 1,700 are projected for this year.

The energy around them is palpable. They know that a bright future for Maine includes affordable housing for everyone, and they know they will be stronger because of it.

Cities and towns that are now shutting out housing development think they are protecting themselves. Instead, they are falling behind — and leaving fellow Mainers in the lurch.

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