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May 7, 2019

MEREDA focuses on new approaches to housing at 2019 spring conference

Gary D. Vogel, president of MEREDA. Photo/ Renee Cordes "Housing has reached a critical juncture here in Maine," MEREDA President Gary D. Vogel said in his introductory remarks at the organization's spring conference Tuesday in Portland.

The focus was on the future of housing in Maine, and new approaches to it, when several hundred real estate industry representatives gathered at the Maine Real Estate and Development Association 2019 Spring Conference in Portland on Tuesday.

"Housing has reached a critical juncture here in Maine," which fits right in with MEREDA's mission of supporting responsible development, said the organization's president, Gary D. Vogel, an attorney with Portland law firm Drummond Woodsum, in his introductory remarks.

Giving a bigger economic picture, Lynn Fisher of the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C.,noted that as of June the country will be 10 years into the recovery and match the longest recovery period on record of 120 months.

"Economic expansions do not die of old age," she said, adding that while there's no reason to believe the country is going to fall off the cliff soon, one should keep in mind that something happening abroad or trade discussions could trigger movement towards "bubble territory."

On the housing supply front, she said that new homes generally tend to be higher priced, and that it's important to look at ways to increase production at lower- and middle-tier prices. But she also said that different solutions are needed even within Maine, saying that "we're going to have to come up with some really effective and innovative" policies related to housing.

In later discussion, she said, "We haven't changed the way we build single-family houses since 1830."

Fisher predicted that affordable housing will remain "front of mind" both for Maine and the nation overall, for at least the next two to three years.

A sense of community

Also speaking was Martin Ditto, CEO of Ditto Residential, in Washington, D.C., who agreed that attitudes toward housing have to change. He advocated for looking at housing through the lens of community, urging those at the conference to "find out what's missing in your community ...and find a solution for what you want to create."

Ditto builds co-housing. "It's a fairly new term, but not a new concept," he told the gathering. "When people get out of college, and they live in a group home, that's co-housing."

But his version of co-housing is for families, he said, and is an alternative to single-family homes. He described them as micro-units around a common area.

Ditto said that with most housing today, the only thing residents have in common is their socio-economic class. He said that those involved in real estate development need to better determine what communities need — noting, for example, that his housing projects focus on wellness, both physically and mentally, and that their residents share that bond.

"We need human connections and relationships," he said.

The event also includes a panel discussion with Fisher and Ditto, who answered questions from the audience regarding their views on housing, where the emphasis on community and new ways to look at housing continued.

Fisher advocated for less zoning. "I would love to pull back the rules and regulations ... I would love to see what happens."

She and Ditto said that other communities, including Minneapolis and Houston, are looking at zoning differently in order to solve housing issues.

Fisher said as she drove into Portland, she was struck by the duplexes and triple-deckers. When those were built, there was more of a community feel to housing. "What if we could get that now?" she asked.

She said there also had to be more of a vision for using existing stock effectively.

Ditto, referring to co-housing, said, "People say, 'How are people going to live together?' I don't know, but people do it all over the world."

He added that housing solutions come down to partnerships. "I don't have the need to be the morning, noon and night of all our developments."

Men holding plaques
Courtesy / MEREDA
Winners of the MEREDA Top 6 Notable Projects for 2018 include representatives of developers of the Ballard Center, Augusta; Boothbay Harbor Country Club, Boothbay Harbor; Bill & Joan Alfond Main Street Commons, Waterville; Riverview Terrace Apartments, Westbrook; The Motherhouse, Portland; Topsham Care Center, Topsham.

Six award winners

Six developers also were presented awards for the "Top 6 Notable Projects for 2008."

Recognized projects were the Ballard Center, Augusta, by Dirigo Capital Advisors; Boothbay Harbor Country Club, Boothbay Harbor, by Paul Coulombe; Bill & Joan Alfond Main Street Commons, Waterville, by Colby College; Riverview Terrace Apartments, Westbrook, by Westbrook Housing/Westbrook Development Corp./Anew Development; The Motherhouse, Portland, by Developers Collaborative/Seascoast Management; Topsham Care Center, Topsham, Bateman Partners.

Projects were chosen by MEREDA's leadership based on whether they were noteworthy and significant, environmentally sustainable, their economic impact, difficulty of the development, uniqueness, energy efficiency, social impact and job creation and had an occupancy permit by Dec. 31.

The event wrapped up with a panel discussion featuring Matt O'Malia, principal architect and co-founder of GO Logic; Hannah Pingree, director of the Governor's Office of Policy and Management; and Dan Brennan, director of MaineHousing.

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