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January 16, 2019

Housing advocates hail release of $15M senior housing bond

Courtesy / Office of Gov. Janet Mills Gov. Janet Mills on Tuesday signed an executive order to start the release of $15 million in affordable housing bonds for Maine seniors approved by voters in 2015. The move, which was expected and in line with a campaign promise, was announced at an Augusta press conference.

Gov. Janet Mills on Tuesday signed an order to start the release of $15 million in affordable housing bonds for seniors as approved by voters in 2015 but held up by her predecessor, Gov. Paul R. LePage.

That makes two executive orders reversing LePage in as many weeks, with the first one directing authorities to quickly expand Medicaid for 70,000 Mainers.

The order signed Tuesday will allow $500,000 of the $15 million bond to fund ongoing projects, with the rest promised for any projects ready by June.

“While the people of Maine authorized this bond more than 1,000 days ago, today we proudly move forward in our goal of ensuring that all Maine seniors can live safely and with dignity and comfort in the homes and commitments they love,” Mills said in a news release issued following a press conference in Augusta. “It’s time to build more affordable senior housing as the voters intended.”

Avesta Housing: ‘A good first step’

In a recent interview with Mainebiz ahead of the expected order, Avesta Housing President and CEO Dana Totman called it a step in the right direction.

“Selling those bonds a couple year ago would have been more favorable,” he said, “but we’re encouraged that signing the bond will be a good first step.”

In its advocacy for the bond prior to the 2015 vote, Avesta Housing made these arguments:

  • Bond funding would be used in urban and rural counties alike.
  • It would allow construction of an estimated 225 affordable senior homes statewide, with at least four of the properties to be built in Maine’s rural counties. Preference would be given to projects located near health care and other essential goods and services.
  • A portion of the bond’s proceeds will also be dedicated to home repair and weatherization statewide, allowing more than 100 seniors to safely and affordably remain in their own homes.
  • Building affordable homes for seniors will provide critically needed work for Maine people. The typical project will require 150-200 Maine workers, from contractors and trades professionals, to architects and engineers, to accountants and attorneys.

Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling also addressed affordable housing in his annual “state of the city” address earlier this week, speaking of the need for 1,000 new units of workforce housing and floating the idea of requiring developers to restrict the amount of rent they can charge in exchange for subsidies.

He also called for protecting tenants from being displaced out of their homes or unfairly disqualified for getting an apartment, saying the current 30-day notice system “is simply not enough time,” and can force people into taking something that’s inadequate and too expensive and even into a shelter.

Portland remains the state’s most expensive rental market as shown in a June 2018 report by the National Income Housing Coalition comparing rents and wages nationally in every state, country and city in the United States.

In Maine, the state housing wage was found to be $18.73 an hour—the hourly wage a full-time worker must earn to afford a two-bedroom rental while spending no more than 30% of income on rent and utilities. Portland was found to be the state’s most expensive rental area with a housing wage of $25.92.

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