Guaranteeing every citizen a right to housing is one of 30 new proposals to amend the Maine Constitution, the latest round in a series of broad initiatives to reach the Legislature since voters approved a constitutional right to food in 2021.

The housing amendment, proposed by Rep. Benjamin Collings, D-Portland, would add one line to the Declaration of Rights in the state constitution: “All individuals have a natural, inherent and unalienable right to housing.”

Collings hopes it will lead to new policies requiring more housing assistance and resources for people hit hardest by the state’s housing crisis. He said the housing market is fundamentally broken and housing is treated as a product or commodity rather than a human necessity. And he said he decided to offer a constitutional amendment rather than specific law or policy changes because of the success of the right to food movement two years ago.

“In my mind I felt if people in Maine consider you to have a right to food, I would think you should also therefore have a right to housing,” Collings said. “I thought it was a conversation we should have and I want the people of Maine to weigh in on it and see if it’s a good idea or not.”

Maine has a shortage of more than 19,000 rental homes affordable and available to low-income renters, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. And 58% of extremely low-income renters are severely burdened by their housing costs, meaning they spend more than 30% of their income on rent and utilities, the coalitions says.

The problem also extends to middle class households, which are getting priced out of urban areas and shut out of home ownership opportunities because of high sales prices and high interest rates.


Legislative leaders have identified the state’s housing shortage as a top priority this session. They formed a Joint Select Committee on Housing to consider a broad range of legislative proposals and a series of 18 recommendations from a special study group.

Rep. Benjamin Collings, D-Portland

Collings’ proposal is one of 30 constitutional amendments lawmakers may consider this session based on bill titles. That number could drop, since some lawmakers are offering similar proposals that could be combined. But the initial count is the highest number since the session that began in 2004, when the Legislature considered 38 proposed amendments.

Other constitutional amendments include establishing a right to health care, “to be free from hunger,” a healthy environment, bodily autonomy, abortion access, privacy, a parents bill of rights, equal rights for women, ranked-choice voting and election of the state’s constitutional officers, among others.

Last session, 22 constitutional amendments were proposed, including a right to privacy, equal rights for women and a healthy environment. None earned the two-thirds support in the Legislature needed to send the questions to voters for final approval.

This year’s surge comes after Maine voters passed the nation’s first “right to food” constitutional amendment in 2021. Voters overwhelmingly approved the amendment, which earned 61% support, even though there were questions about how the right would impact food safety and animal welfare.

At least one lawsuit invoking that right has been filed in court. A Readfield couple is looking to use that constitutional right to end the prohibition on Sunday hunting, claiming “the unalienable constitutional right to harvest food, superseding the old religious ban on Sunday hunting.”


That lawsuit is still working its way through the courts.

Nicholas Jacobs, an assistant professor of government at Colby College, said the rise in broadly worded constitutional amendments seems to be a way for lawmakers to send a message to constituents that they recognize the importance of addressing intractable social problems, for which no easy solution exits.

“It also sends a signal to supporters that this is something you care about,” Jacobs said. “I’m not saying it’s completely devoid of any possible desire to actually fix the housing crisis confronting the state, but it does seem to me to be more political than policy-oriented.”

Jacobs said constitutional amendments granting additional rights are generally popular with voters and don’t involve high-stakes political negotiations over nitty-gritty policy details. But that ambiguous language ultimately leads to lawsuits, where court rulings shaped by lawyers and advocates set the policy, he said.

Democrats control both legislative chambers and the governorship, but Jacobs said that doesn’t mean they agree on how to fix the housing problem.

“If they did, you would probably seem them go through the hard work of  legislative negotiation,” he said. “But if you can’t agree as a party, one possible avenue to enact change is to dump this on the courts and have the solutions be worked out through the process of litigation that are inevitably going to emerge in response to an ambiguous right to housing.”


The broad language is also leaving other observers with more questions than answers, including how it would impact local zoning and land use laws and a landlord’s ability to evict a tenant.

Kate Dufour, a legislative advocate for the Maine Municipal Association, which represents towns and cities, said the group’s policy committee has yet to discuss the proposal, so the association has no official position.

“However, the way in which the rules and statutes are written to guide implementation of the goal is of utmost importance to municipal officials,” Dufour said. “What exactly will be required of municipalities and how will these initiatives be funded and implemented? Collaboration and coordination among the many interested parties will need to be in place.”

Brit Vitalius, president of the Southern Maine Landlord Association, was also perplexed.

“I don’t know what Rep. Collings means by a ‘right to housing,’ ” Vitalius said. “To government housing? To private housing? The word seems to have real legal implications. Would the state be legally obligated to provide housing to everyone in the state and liable if the housing is not available?”

No other state appears to have a constitutional right to housing, but some have considered legislation to establish that right.


Massachusetts enacted a “right to shelter” law in 1983 that requires the state to provide immediate shelter to homeless families, but only in terms of emergency shelter, not permanent housing. That policy has led to housing families in local hotels. 

Connecticut lawmakers are considering a bill that would enact a right to housing in state statute.

The bill, sponsored by Democratic state Sen. Saud Anwar, would require state agencies to align policies, regulations and grants with regards to housing, especially low- and moderate-income families experiencing homelessness or at risk. It would also direct the state to provide eviction prevention programs, legal representation in evictions, financial assistance, support services and “problem-solving counseling.”

California lawmakers passed a similar right to housing bill in 2020, but it was vetoed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, partly because of the bill’s $10 billion cost.

“This is a laudable goal that I share, and undoubtedly, California must continue to do more to address homelessness,” Newsom, a Democrat, said in his veto letter. “Although well-intentioned, this bill is duplicative of existing efforts and may ultimately force us to expend resources without commensurately creating new housing or services for people experiencing homelessness.”

Collings said he hopes to further define “a right to housing” in his bill, L.D. 853, through the committee process. He believes the amendment will allow Maine residents to weigh in, since it requires voter approval, but it’s not the only avenue for making progress.

“I think some good will come out of it regardless of the final outcome,” Collings said. “The current housing model is not working.”

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