The truth is unavoidable: Maine is facing a statewide housing crisis. Every Mainer deserves a safe, warm place to call home. This is most acutely felt during these cold winter months. But the climbing cost of housing is making it increasingly difficult for people to find places to live within their price range. That’s why the Legislature recently created the Joint Select Committee on Housing, which will take a comprehensive look at all components of Maine’s housing needs, finding emergency fixes and long-term solutions to ongoing, systemic problems.

Every Mainer’s housing needs are unique. Young families should be able to afford to buy their first home in a community their kids can thrive in. Older Mainers deserve to be able to age in their homes with dignity, or move into a safe and welcoming alternative  when they need it. Working Mainers need to be able to afford to live near their jobs. Others need the flexibility to make room for aging parents or family members who need extra help. And our most vulnerable neighbors need to be able to rely on safe, well-funded shelters, warming centers and emergency housing.

The impacts of the housing crisis extend throughout our communities. Without available housing, we are struggling to staff our schools and public safety and health care facilities. The volunteers who work in fire departments, on town committees and in nonprofits are becoming hard to find. And the biggest problem facing our businesses is hiring and keeping employees who struggle to afford housing. People can’t work in Maine if they can’t afford to live here.

The policies we consider will aim to thoughtfully reflect and respond to all these needs. We’re organizing the work before us into three main categories: First, we are tackling the urgent situation facing people who are unhoused or at risk of becoming unhoused. We are hearing from those working on the ground so that we can craft policies to immediately address those needs.

Second, the Joint Select Committee will work on ways to preserve existing housing while producing more housing in ways that respond to needs in different parts of the state. The construction of all types of housing has dramatically slowed over the past 20 years, in part because of the Great Recession as well as rising building costs resulting from the pandemic. We have simply not produced enough housing for our population. There are systemic challenges we must overcome to assure that we create adequate housing moving forward.

The third category of our work will be to improve the laws and processes for how Maine plans for land use, development and sustainability. This includes modernizing our approach to planning at the state, regional and municipal levels, and putting needed tools and systems into the hands of the people who do this important work.

Our current housing crisis is not isolated to one part of the state or any individual group or demographic. Housing is a complex issue that affects so many  things, including our state’s economy, our workforce and behavioral and mental health needs. As a Joint Select Committee, we will be working for the next two years to fully understand the issues, hear from people across the state working on and affected by the housing crisis and collaborate with all facets of the housing world to create solutions. We’re eager to collaborate with other legislative committees, state agencies and governments at the local, regional and federal levels. We will be open to all perspectives and fresh ideas.

The Housing Committee is made up of an extraordinary group of Mainers with diverse experience and expertise within all elements of the housing arena. We are ready to find and implement short-term and long-term solutions that maximize the livability, health and well-being of Mainers from every walk of life. There’s much work to be done over the next two years. Our ultimate goal is to have a positive impact on Mainers’ daily lives. Housing is the first step on everyone’s journey to reach their fullest potential.

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