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May 9, 2019

Proposed tax incentive for affordable housing gains support in Augusta

Courtesy/Office of Ryan Fecteau Maine state Rep. Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, is sponsor of LD 1645, "An Act to Create Affordable Workforce and Senior Housing and Preserve Affordable Rural Housing."

Advocates of a proposed tax credit aimed at bringing more affordable housing to Maine made their case this week at a public hearing in Augusta.

L.D. 1645, "An Act to Create Affordable Workforce and Senior Housing and Preserve Affordable Rural Housing," is sponsored by state Rep. Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, and had its first public hearing this week before the Committee on Taxation. A work session is scheduled for Tuesday, May 14.

Out of 13 written testimony submissions online, there is no opposition. Supporters include the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition, Associated General Contractors of Maine and the Maine Council on Aging.

In an interview with Mainebiz after Monday's brief hearing, Fecteau said he's confident the measure will pass.

"There's always this annual concern about a tax benefit versus a straight-out appropriation, and why should we pass a tax expenditure when we could just appropriate funds up front?" Fecteau said.

In reality, he noted that federal funds intended for affordable housing frequently end up being used for other purposes, so his bill aims to remedy the situation by using $80 million in state tax credits over four years to leverage an equal amount of federal low-income housing tax credits that would not otherwise flow to Maine.

If the measure goes ahead, Maine could double the number of low-income housing units built over the next four years, which the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition characterizes as "critical activity that would otherwise not occur."

Peter Merrill, deputy director of the Maine State Housing Authority, testified that the bill is important and is meant to complement the only federal program that creates new affordable housing units. "By building on the existing program," he said in written testimony, "it will fit in quickly and seamlessly."

Fecteau told Mainebiz that while the measure is a step in the right direction, there's still a long way to go to increase the supply of affordable housing.

"I don't think we've taken the issue seriously enough," he said. "We have tapped into the HOME Fund and redirected money elsewhere for the past 16 years. That' catching up to us, and we're really far behind ... We have to take this issue seriously."

He also said he has seen the affordable-housing crunch problem firsthand in Biddeford as it experiences growing pains of economic development, and hears frequently from constituents "beginning to feel the pinch."

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