Laura Mitchell

Maine has a shortage of 20,000 affordable and available rental homes for Maine’s lowest-income renters, who make up one quarter of all renters in Maine.

Those are the findings in a newly-released report, The Gap: A Shortage of Affordable Homes, from the National Low Income Housing Coalition, of which the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition is a member.

MAHC is a diverse coalition of more than 140 private and public sector organizations, including developers, architects, engineers, builders, investors, community action agencies, public housing authorities, housing and service providers, advocates and others committed to ensuring that all Mainers are adequately and affordably housed.

In Maine, only 51 affordable and available homes exist for every 100 of the lowest-income renter households. This severe shortage forces 60% of our poorest families — seniors, people with disabilities, and low-wage workers — to spend more than half of their incomes on rent and utilities, leaving them unable to afford food, transportation, medical care, and other basic necessities.

These households have little or no savings to weather even the smallest emergencies. The pandemic has laid bare this crisis driven by a lack of affordable housing.

The greatest need for affordable housing is concentrated among extremely low-income renter households, who earn no more than the federal poverty line or 30% of their area median income. These renters were uniquely positioned to suffer disproportionately from the effects of lost income and housing insecurity during the pandemic.

Advertisement

Prior to the pandemic, 60% of the lowest-income renters in the labor force worked in industries identified by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as the most impacted by pandemic shutdowns. Even before the pandemic, the lowest-income renters faced the greatest shortages of affordable housing, the most severe cost burdens and, consequently, the most serious housing instability.

The federal government took unprecedented, but temporary, actions to protect the lowest-income renters from housing instability. Most eviction moratoriums have been lifted and resources such as federal emergency rental assistance are running out in many areas.

Longer-term federal investments in affordable housing are needed to combat the underlying shortage of affordable housing. Longer-term federal housing subsidies are needed for the lowest-income renters, because the private market fails to produce an adequate supply of affordable housing on its own. The rents the lowest-income renters can afford to pay do not typically cover the cost of developing new housing or even maintaining older housing.

Because the market consistently fails to provide adequate, affordable housing for these renters, the government has an essential role in correcting this failure. Congress must make significant, long-term investments in affordable housing programs such as the national Housing Trust Fund, Housing Choice Vouchers, and public housing. Congress should retain in a new reconciliation package the historic investments in these programs that were included in the House-passed “Build Back Better Act.”

As The Gap demonstrates, the housing crisis for the lowest-income renters will persist long after the pandemic without such investments.

Historically, limited resources and investment have left Maine only building several hundred units of affordable housing a year. Throughout Maine, it’s urgent we set higher goals and prepare to be producing 1,000 affordable units a year.

Advertisement

This will take creativity, engagement, and investment from all angles. Our state has made progress. In the recent legislative session, LD 2003 and LD 201 were passed. They both support affordable housing development. The state is also investing pandemic-related funding to support housing development.

Towns, businesses, philanthropists and residents have ways to engage as well. Towns can revise land use and zoning ordinances to allow for denser housing development — an acre of land can easily provide homes for 40 families, seniors or individuals in need if zoned appropriately.

Residents can support development and zone changes in their community for affordable housing development. Businesses can invest in housing for their workforce. Philanthropists can consider opportunities for retrofitting homes for seniors, supporting volunteer driven home development, and other unique opportunities.

Laura Mitchell is director of the Portland-based Maine Affordable Housing Coalition.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.