Maine’s affordable housing crisis weighs on nearly everyone. But it weighs heaviest on households who are already just getting by.

For these folks, all it takes is one disruption — a change to their employment, a rise in rent, a sudden health problem — and they could find themselves on the street.

With housing prices rising everywhere, many Mainers have found themselves in that spot. In community after community, people who merely struggled to make ends meet before are falling into homelessness.

It’s a clear sign of how dire Maine’s housing crisis has become — a reminder of just what the state is up against.

Most people are aware of the issues surrounding homelessness in Portland, which because of its size and the services it offers has had a high homeless population for decades, and where the increasing cost of living has made the problem worse.

But many of the same factors are affecting people elsewhere. Over the bridge in South Portland, city officials are offering more resources for unhoused residents, as they see that number tick upward.


The housing crunch has left more people in Westbrook homeless, as well, the American Journal reported last month, with a local pastor saying he’s “seeing people who’ve had apartments for years suddenly living in their cars.”

The same dynamic has been reported in the last month in Biddeford, once a source of low-cost housing that is now drawing in new residents, forcing prices upward, just as they did in Portland starting a decade or so ago. Now, more people are on the verge of losing housing, the Press Herald wrote April 3.

Lewiston, too, is experiencing an uptick in homelessness that the city is now trying to address. Even smaller communities, like those in the Sebago Lakes Region, are seeing more of their residents have problems with stable housing.

Further north, people in the Waterville and Augusta areas, too, have found it difficult to find housing, forcing some into shelters, couch-surfing, or even campsites.

“Those at the edges are likely finding it hard to find that roof over their heads,” Biddeford city staff wrote in a recent report. “Low-income households that have lived in Biddeford for some time are now experiencing increasing housing costs and an increase in housing instability.”

An affordable housing bill is now before the Legislature. If passed, it would require communities to allow multi-unit development and encourage more density in housing development. In the end, that should lead to more housing for everyone, and more options in addition to single-family homes, all of which would help lower costs.


But that won’t be enough to fill the gap for Maine’s low-income households, more than half of whom pay more than half their income for housing. Even with the requirements and incentives, private developers will for the most part opt to build market-rate housing, which would help the overall housing situation but not affect low-income residents a whole lot.

To help their residents who are homeless, or on the brink, the state and individual communities need to invest in affordable housing, so that people with low incomes can live there and still have some money in their pockets. The market, left alone, just isn’t providing it. Public investment is crucial, as Gov. Mills and the Legislature, and some local governments, have shown the last few years.

They need to be creative, too, considering options such as boarding houses that can serve as low-barrier, low-cost housing for people who need it at once. They should offer services and supports near low-cost housing that address other factors in homelessness, such as health care and transportation.

There are a lot of reasons people fall into homelessness. But the biggest one right now is that they cannot afford a home.

As the cost of housing in Maine continues to rise, more and more Mainers will fall into that category.

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