Recently, communities across southern Maine have rejected new development proposals that would have helped alleviate our regional housing shortage. Some municipalities have been more accommodating – South Portland, Portland and my own, Scarborough – but to ask a small number of cities and towns to bear the brunt of the expanding population of southern Maine is simply unsustainable. The rejections, moreover, come from all sides – not just the liberal upper crust in Cape Elizabeth, predictably rejecting anything except more mansions for the rich, but also from Kittery and Brunswick, both of which have rejected new builds and enacted moratoriums despite the rhetoric of their municipal comprehensive plans.

The arguments of these noisy NIMBY naysayers are neither coherent nor backed up by reality. On the one hand, affordable housing supposedly dilutes property values, although the mechanism by which this value destruction works is unsupported by data or past experience. Others claim new residents disrupt our “character,” although Maine was built by outsiders, not only from the suburbs of Boston but also from England, Quebec and, yes, Somalia. Some show their misanthropy by decrying the fact that new residents bring children, who need to be educated – oh, the horror. And all of the arguments ignore the fact that as Maine ages, we need new workers to serve our schools, stores, emergency services and the elder care facilities, which are already strapped for staff. The most recent argument, from a Kittery resident who claimed that new residents would dilute the value of their vote in town elections, seems to simply want all population increase to stop.

These moratoriums are consistently pushed by a small but vocal cadre who feel that renters and first-time homebuyers should grovel to be deigned worthy of living here, to the extent they are allowed to come here at all. Life in Maine is a blessing, there’s no question of that, but it’s not a privilege to be granted by those who care little for the future and simply grasp with cold hands a vision of the past that never was. Few of the obstructionists would welcome a return to the economic wasteland Maine faced for much of the latter half of the 20th century, when high school graduates who had a choice left the state en masse to find opportunity elsewhere – but their actions seem to encourage a return to that era of decay.

What is interesting is that this isn’t a party political issue, either. I recently ran for town office, and this terror of change exists across the political spectrum. Indeed, the one issue uniting LePage and Mills voters seems to be “We hate growth, we hate change, we hate outsiders and we want everything to stop.”

Maine needs to evolve, not stagnate; we need an open attitude toward change to retain the best of our youth and give them a Maine they can be a part of for their entire lives, not just as a dream retirement destination. But the message we’re sending with the fear-mongered rejection of workforce and dense-scale development is saying something much different.  

The sign that says “Maine: The Way Life Should Be” has been around for a long time, but alas, it’s now out of date. More accurate today would be “Maine: Only Come with Money. And Kids, Good Riddance, And Don’t Come Back Until You Have Some Cash, Too.”

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