Gov. Mills and Maine lawmakers have done a lot in recent years to address Maine’s colossal shortage of affordable housing.

What we have to remember, though, is that it’s not yet enough, not for a state that needs as many as 40,000 more affordable units, and not in the short term for people who can’t find a safe, affordable place to live right now.

The supplemental state budget signed into law last week includes more than $100 million to help build more housing and otherwise alleviate the catastrophic effects of high housing costs. It adds to funding allocated in previous years, and comes after Mills and the Legislature last session passed a landmark housing law that opens the way for more units across the state.

There’s a lot of good in that short paragraph. The funding approved most recently will help build affordable housing in areas of the state that need it, and which otherwise don’t always get a lot of investment.

Some of the money will go toward the new rural affordable rental housing program, which Mills began last year. It provides subsidies and loans to developers who build affordable rental units in rural areas; seven projects comprising 115 units are already underway, from Bath to Presque Isle.

Included in those are an 18-unit project in Madison, with another 18 planned for later — key for an area that will be adding jobs in manufacturing soon and needs the housing for workers.


Along with the zoning reform, and other initiatives underway, the funding in the budget should lead to a lot of new housing construction, which in time will stabilize prices and make housing more affordable. That puts Maine on the right track.

Despite all the work, however, we are far from the finish line.

First, even taking into account the available incentives, and the widespread agreement on how bad the problem is, it’s still far too difficult to build housing in Maine. Even with zoning reform, there are too many ways local governing bodies and residents can slow down and even stop housing development, even if its benefits far outweighs its costs.

To overcome this, we need leaders at the local level who can steer development toward where it makes the sense — near other housing and jobs, and along transportation corridors — and make the case that new housing helps the whole community. We need residents who will welcome good homes built for others, not nitpick every new proposal.

When attractive communities try their best to inhibit growth, you end up with too few homes for too many people. You end where we are now.

Tent cities have popped not only throughout Portland but in at least a handful of communities across the state — anywhere where the lack of housing options and skyrocketing prices have pushed people onto the streets, with no other options available. And they are just one manifestation of Maine’s homelessness crisis.


The new state budget offers some help. Most promisingly, it launches Maine’s Housing First program. Once up and running, it will help get people struggling with homelessness into a home where on-site services are available. It has worked elsewhere, and it should work here, too.

The budget also expands eligibility for a program that helps low-income Mainers with their utility bills, and supports some short-term emergency housing initiatives and shelter operations.

Those latter initiatives provide some relief now, but the others will take time to work. The Mainers now homeless, and the ones who will join in the coming months as victims of the ever-tightening housing market, don’t have that time.

Many Mainers now don’t have a place to stay. Many others are struggling to meet the rent, or otherwise scrambling to hold onto their housing as prices rise and supply fails to keep up with demand. Where will they all go this winter?

Homelessness is as bad as it has ever been, the result of decades when new housing construction lagged behind growth.

The initiatives from Gov. Mills and the Legislature, and the work of local leaders dedicated to new housing, should help turn the tide in time.

Until then, we need to take action to make sure people don’t end up without shelter this year.

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