From the Field: Maine Advocates Call on State Legislative Candidates to Pledge Support for Release of Senior Affordable Housing Bond

Seventy percent of voters in Maine approved a general obligation bond measure in November, 2015 that will generate $15 million for the construction of affordable rental housing and the rehabilitation of owner-occupied homes for the state’s seniors, to be used in conjunction with $22.5 million in leveraged funds. Despite bipartisan support from both houses of the state legislature and overwhelming approval by the voters of Maine, Governor Paul LePage (R) has blocked release of the bond. Maine housing advocates are working to force the governor’s hand. 

The bond referendum reached voters after passing the Democrat-controlled State House of Representatives with more than 80% of the vote and the Republican-controlled State Senate with more than 90% of the vote in June 2015. Governor LePage attempted to veto the measure, but his attempt to do so was ruled unconstitutional by a unanimous advisory opinion by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court (see Memo, 8/31/15).  Despite the court’s ruling and support by the public and elected officials in all counties across the state, Mr. LePage has refused to take action. At a town hall forum this spring, Mr. LePage stated that he would never release the bond proceeds as long as he is Maine’s governor.

The bond was proposed in response to a growing unmet need for senior housing statewide. The Maine Affordable Housing Coalition (MAHC), a NLIHC state partner, commissioned Abt Associates in January 2015 to research and publish a report titled “A Profile of Maine’s Older Population and Housing Stock.” The report showed that nearly one-third of Maine’s population is age 55 or older, the highest of any state in the country. Fifty-two percent of Maine’s senior renter households are cost-burdened, paying more than 30% of their gross monthly income on rent and utilities, and 24% are severely cost-burdened, paying more than half of their income on housing. Compounding the issue of an aging population is Maine’s very old housing stock. Nearly 40% of renter-occupied homes in Maine were built prior to 1950. Maine has an estimated shortage of 9,000 affordable rental homes for low income seniors, a number that is expected to climb to 15,000 by 2022.  Despite the shortage, only 39 new affordable homes for seniors have been added to Maine’s housing stock so far in 2016.

Advocates led by MAHC have circulated a pledge to all candidates in this fall’s Maine state legislative races, calling on them to urge Mr. LePage to release the senior affordable housing bond funding. The pledge reads: “I pledge to the voters of the State of Maine that I will respect their will and support legislation to immediately release the senior affordable housing bond that they overwhelmingly approved in November 2015.” So far more than 170 state legislative candidates have signed the petition, which includes Republicans, Democrats, and Independents in State House and State Senate races across Maine. The pledge is supported by AARP Maine, the American Council of Engineering Companies of Maine, AIA Maine, the Maine Council on Aging, the Maine Real Estate & Development Association, the Maine Real Estate Managers’ Association, and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, Maine.

“Due to the governor’s failure to act, more than 9,000 Maine seniors are needlessly waiting for safe, affordable homes. Without the release of these bond funds, the supply of affordable homes for Maine’s seniors will continue to fall further behind the need,” says MAHC Director and NLIHC Board Member Greg Payne. “Employing Maine workers to build the affordable homes that Maine seniors need is a smart and effective use of our state’s bond capacity. We urge the governor to release the Senior Affordable Housing Bond as soon as possible, and are encouraged by the strong bipartisan response from legislative candidates seeking to ensure that the will of Maine voters is respected.”

The pledge and full list of the candidates for state legislative office who have signed it are available at: http://bit.ly/2eCwS2s

The “Profile of Maine’s Older Population and Housing Stock” report is available at: http://bit.ly/2eCtfJI

For more information, contact Greg Payne at gpayne@mainehousingcoalition.org