AUGUSTA — With the current widespread lack of housing and prices escalating for what little is available, city councilors have made making more affordable housing available to people of all income levels their top goal for the year.

“We all hear the circumstances around our community and statewide, we hear the data from the Augusta Housing Authority, from all quarters we’re getting the information there is just not enough housing all along the spectrum, and with housing getting as expensive as it is, it’s harder for the people that need it,” Mayor Mark O’Brien said Friday. “So, for everybody, it’s clear that housing is a priority and a need. We’ve got to come at it from as many different ways as we can.”

Ways city officials hope to do that include:

• Coming up with a plan, before next winter and its potentially life-endangering temperatures arrive, to house people who are homeless.

• Creating a task force involving housing partners to form a strategy to increase the availability of housing for people at all income levels.

• Establishing and maintaining a low-barrier homeless shelter.


• Considering a short-term rental ordinance to control the conversion of year-round housing into tourist units and identifying and implementing zoning changes, potentially including allowing manufactured housing, tiny houses and accessory dwellings on existing house lots in more areas, to make affordable housing less expensive to develop.

• Providing financial incentives, such as property tax breaks, or even turning over city-acquired properties to housing developers at low or no cost, to encourage housing development.

O’Brien said the city’s efforts to help address the lack of affordable housing will likely not include the city building housing itself. The city does partner with the Augusta Housing Authority, which has housing development projects in the works now, and could consider forming public-private partnerships as a way to help promote the creation of new, affordable housing.

Mayor Mark O’Brien speaks Feb. 26 during an Augusta City Council goal-setting session at the Augusta Civic Center. The council has made affordable housing one of its priorities for the year. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

Councilors met in a workshop session in February to propose their goals for the year. Since then, City Manager Susan Robertson and consultant Frank O’Hara worked to pare down and finalize those goals into a final set of goals that city councilors voted unanimously, and without further discussion, to approve Thursday.

O’Brien said some of the goals are aspirational and cannot be completed in one year, with both short- and long-term goals included. He said the goals, and yearly goal-setting process, serve as a guide for city officials, something to keep an eye on to see if they’re making progress, and something that provides direction to city staff.

Another major goal for the year, which has been a goal in past years, as well, is to offer residents more help in recovering from substance use disorder, in light of the nationwide crisis of opioid drug abuse.

More specifically, they want to make Augusta a recovery-ready community and use opioid settlement funds to address goals already established by the city’s Substance Use Task Force. Some goals include encouraging the display of treatment information in public places, celebrating recovery and reducing the stigma of substance use disorder, and taking other steps to support the efforts of the task force.

Other goals include following the recommendations of an ad hoc committee to revitalize the Sand Hill and northern lower Water Street area; improving pedestrian safety; addressing the problem of Hatch Hill landfill, which is projected to be full in about five years; helping ensure Augusta residents are well-educated; encouraging the development of public transportation within the city; increasing training for city workers who interact with the public on mental health and suicide prevention; assisting the school board in planning for the potential replacement of Hussey Elementary School, including potential school consolidation; and improving citizen communications including by enabling hybrid, online meeting participation.

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