The Maine Legislature on June 10 passed key legislation and allocated American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding for affordable housing. The legislation will create a commission to address zoning and land-use barriers to housing development, help reduce evictions, and allocate federal funds for a variety of key affordable housing initiatives. “An Act to Reduce Homelessness by Reducing Evictions” (L.D.1508), signed into law by Governor Janet Mills on June 21, aims to reduce preventable evictions throughout the state. Additionally, L.D.609, “Resolve, To Establish a Commission to Increase Housing Opportunities in Maine by Studying Zoning and Land Use Restrictions,” was signed by Governor Mills on June 15, creating a 15-member commission to identify needed changes to local zoning and land-use laws in order to address the state’s affordable housing shortage.
“An Act to Reduce Homelessness by Reducing Evictions” (L.D.1508) mandates that landlords attach a “plain-language notice” written by the judicial branch to all future eviction notices. The notice will include key information for tenants about the eviction process, how to request mediation, and how to access rent relief and legal assistance. The Maine Affordable Housing Coalition (MAHC), an NLIHC state partner, analyzed 2,300 eviction court files from around the state, demonstrating the need for eviction prevention practices and were used to inform advocacy for the bill. MAHC reported that landlords had legal representation in 81% of eviction cases, while tenants were only represented in 20% of cases, and that those with the benefit of legal counsel were 85% more likely to avoid an eviction judgment. This discovery and the legislative campaign for L.D.1508 prompted the creation of a new partnership between Pine Tree Legal Assistance and MaineHousing to expand legal aid for tenants facing eviction. The partnership is funded in part by ARPA dollars.
L.D.609 creates a commission to examine data on housing shortages for low-income and middle-income households, review state housing regulations, identify effective zoning and land use changes utilized by other states and municipalities, reconsider existing zoning laws, and incorporate racial equality as a key outcome for future zoning laws. The bill mandates that the commission will comprise five public members, including one member from an organization that advocates for low-income or middle-income renters or homeowners and one from a local or statewide organization promoting civil rights that has racial justice or racial equity as its primary mission. The bill was championed by House Speaker Ryan Fecteau and has been a top priority of the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition (MAHC), a NLIHC state partner.
Finally, Governor Mills signed into law legislation authorizing expenditure of nearly $1 billion in federal fiscal recovery funds, including $50 million to provide more affordable housing. “An Act To Provide Allocations for the Distribution of State Fiscal Recovery Funds” (L.D.1733) included $10 million to support homeless shelters and $1.5 million to support housing navigators.
“There is a great deal to celebrate from this year’s legislative session,” said Greg Payne, director of the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition. “The passage of these meaningful, bipartisan housing initiatives will allow us to create more energy-efficient, affordable homes across the state, reduce evictions and move towards critical zoning and land use reforms.”