AUGUSTA (AP) – More people moving to Maine than out have made affordable housing scarce and squeezed development into rural communities, according to two speakers at a state conference on affordable housing.

Charles Colgan, a University of Southern Maine professor and former state economist, told the Maine State Housing Authority’s 35th annual conference on Tuesday that net in-migration started taking off in 1998. That curbed a trend of more people leaving Maine than moving in during the mid-1990s.

A net of almost 93,000 people have moved into Maine. Almost 20,000 are from Massachusetts, and most are living in southern Maine and commuting to New Hampshire or northern Massachusetts to work, Colgan said.

“The in-migrants are not coming here and fueling job growth in York County and Cumberland County,” Colgan said. “Why Maine? For the simple reason that no matter how expensive you think housing prices are in York or Cumberland counties, they’re dirt-cheap compared to the Boston area.”

Maine families are leaving urban centers for rural areas because they want bigger homes, more land and lower taxes.

– plus they don’t mind a 30-minute commute to the city for work, Colgan said.

But such rural growth requires roads, public works and eventually fuels a demand for other public services, causing property taxes to go up and people to wonder why, said Evan Richert, a USM professor and former State Planning Office director.

“No individual town is to blame,” he said. “The blame lies with the structure of local government in an era of suburbanization. The greater the number of general purpose units of local government with taxing authority, the higher the cost of delivering local and K-12 services.”

Richert suggested that towns come together and develop ways to consolidate services. He said fire departments should remain in each local community, but that there is no need for each town to have public administration offices.

Consolidation could save between $100 million and $150 million in the annual cost of local government, Richert said.

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