From the Field: Maine Legislature Takes Key Step Toward Expanding Affordable Senior Housing

Voters in Maine will have the opportunity in November to aprove a general obligation bond measure that will generate $15 million for the construction of affordable rental housing for Maine’s seniors. The legislature authorized sending the question to voters when they passed Legislative Document 1205 (LD 1205) on June 30. Governor Paul LePage (R) indicated his intention to veto the bill, but his effort to conduct a pocket veto was ruled unlawful by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court in a unanimous advisory opinion issued on July 17.

The $15 million ballot measure request is a step down from the $65 million originally sought by advocates and supporters in the legislature, a reflection of an unusually acrimonious legislative session that saw only two general obligation bond proposals win final approval. The Maine Affordable Housing Coalition (MAHC), an NLIHC State Coalition Partner, led the network of advocacy groups in support of LD 1205, with the help of strong partners in the aging, construction, design, and economic development sectors.

MAHC commissioned Abt Associates in January to produce the report, 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. This proportion of older residents is the highest of any state in the country. Of Maine’s renter households age 55 or older, 52% are cost-burdened, meaning they pay 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 costs. 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.

If approved by the voters, the $15 million would be used for the construction of new, energy-efficient affordable homes for Maine’s seniors. A portion of the bond’s proceeds will be dedicated to home repair and weatherization, allowing seniors to safely and affordably remain in their own homes.

Prior to the November election, MAHC and its campaign partners will be coordinating efforts to inform voters about the importance of this ballot measure, primarily through earned media and strategic use of the large networks associated with the organizations and businesses that have come together in support of the senior housing bond. The hope is that this effort will provide momentum leading to the passage of similar, larger bond measures in future years.

While the $15 million for senior housing is far less than the amount needed, the current contentious culture of state government in Maine makes passage of any legislation a remarkable feat. For much of 2015, Governor LePage vetoed nearly everything the legislature passed, forcing lawmakers to make changes through the veto override process. LD 1205 became law on June 30. Governor LePage pledged to veto it despite the fact that the bill won the support of more than 80% of the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives and over 90% of the Republican-controlled Senate. The Supreme Judicial Court determined that Governor LePage failed to take the required action within ten days to effectuate a veto. Consequently, LD 1205 became law and the $15 million bond question will go the voters on November 3.

“ Using Maine workers to build the affordable homes that Maine seniors need is a smart and effective use of our state’s bond capacity,” said Greg Payne, Director of MAHC and NLIHC Board Member. “We are grateful for the strong support of our state legislature in passing this bond measure, and look forward to the outreach work this fall that we’re confident will result in its overwhelming approval by Maine’s voters.”

For more information contact Greg Payne, Director of MAHC, at [email protected].

A Profile of Maine’s Older Population and Housing Stock is at