AUBURN — Officials will continue discussions on increasing the city’s housing stock as Maine’s housing market tightens, and evidence suggests more buyers are eyeing Auburn.

The workshop session planned for Monday follows discussions in August over how the city can encourage more housing, ranging from in-fill development in the downtown to new single-family homes.

But, city staff and elected officials will have to weigh strategies, and could eventually consider several zoning amendments to make the path to development easier — a discussion that became a recurring theme during the city’s Agriculture and Resource Protection Zone amendments last year.

According to Mayor Jason Levesque, city staff is looking at where new homes could be built, while looking at zoning ordinances to possibly increase density in the downtown. He said the goal is to “grow from the downtown out,” but said language in downtown zoning on minimum lot sizes and other issues make in-fill development more difficult.

He said adding to the housing stock in Auburn would “keep home prices affordable for new people” coming to Auburn, and that the city should be doing more to promote home ownership.

A major piece of the talks is the recent housing market boom throughout Maine, which has more homebuyers looking in the Lewiston-Auburn area.

Real estate experts have said the market is Maine is being driven by low inventory and high demand, both from in and out of state due to the pandemic. Between April 1 and June 30, the median sale price in Androscoggin County ($191,500) rose nearly 14% while statewide growth was 6%.

Multiple Auburn-based real estate agents told the Sun Journal that homes in Auburn are being sold in a matter of days, and for more than asking price, and that an important piece of the issue is that there are fewer homes on the market.

The limited number of homes on the market raises the possibility of homeownership becoming unattainable for potential first-time home buyers, seniors looking to downsize, or those on lower incomes — an issue familiar to southern Maine.

Councilors agreed in August that with the demand for houses very high, and little on the market, it’s difficult to attract those considering relocating to Auburn.

But, the need for more housing will also come with a look at how it could impact the cost of services in the city, and where that development makes sense.

According to a memo to the council from Eric Cousens, deputy director of Economic and Community Development, staff has been working with the police, fire and school departments for “information on current capacity.”

“We have new information on existing service capacity and Auburn-specific data on permits for new homes, and school enrollment by district, to estimate school costs associated with new development in recent years,” the memo states. “More housing data is anticipated soon for lot creation potential.”

The memo from Cousens also states that further discussion will be split into two projects: implementing recommendations related to housing that appear in Auburn’s current comprehensive plan; and making sure the newly-formed Comprehensive Plan Committee addresses housing growth in its upcoming deliberations.

“This split will allow us to get to work on meaningful changes that are already recommended while moving forward with consideration of new ideas,” Cousens said.

The memo states ideas listed in the current plan include ordinance changes for accessory dwellings on residential lots; considering “back lot” development; reconsidering the 700-square-foot minimum floor area for single family homes and an expanded form based code area.

The discussion will take place at 5:30 p.m. Monday.


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