Question 2 asks voters to approve a $15 million bond. Most of the money, $14.5 million, would go to new construction and renovation, according to the Maine Secretary of State’s office; and $500,000 would go to home repair and weatherization programs that assist senior citizens stay in their own homes. The bond is expected to leverage $22 million in private and other government funds.
The apartments would be available to seniors 55 and older who earn about 60 percent of area median income, pegged at between $20,000 and $30,000 annually, estimated Rick McCarthy, who represents the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition. The target goal for rent is 30 percent of household income and generally does not exceed 35-40 percent, he said.
According to the Citizen Guide to the Referendum, prepared by the Maine Secretary of State’s Office, preference will go to projects in locations near health care offices and institutions and other essential services. As well, at least four projects must be located in the 11 Maine counties with fewer than 100,000 residents. Counties with greater than 100,000 population are Androscoggin, Cumberland, Kennebec, Penobscot and York.
A January 2015 study completed by ABT Associates shows 31 percent of Maine’s current housing stock was built before 1950. That same study shows some low-income Maine seniors spent more than 30 percent of their income on rent, and many spent more than half their income on rent.
Advocates of the bond, like AARP Maine and the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition, say currently, 9,000 more affordable housing units are needed for senior citizens. They say the 225 projected to be built through passage of the bond is a start.
“If we don’t pass the bond, the wait list (for affordable housing units) will increase to 15,000 by 2022,” said Amy Gallant of AARP.
Gallant said AARP members tell her that housing is a critical issue. Waiting lists can in some cases be several years in duration. This spring, she said, an older woman decided it was time to move out of her home, and called a developer. When she was told how long the wait could be, she said “forget it,” Gallant said.
In addition to providing needed housing, the Affordable Housing Coalition of Maine points out that passage of the bond would also create jobs – they say each project will require 150-200 Maine workers, such as architects engineers, accountants, lawyers and builders.
The bond has bi-partisan support. Legislation for the bond was co-sponsored by Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves of North Berwick and Republican Sen. David Burns of Whiting.
A further illustration of the two parties’ support of the bond, Democrat Eves and Republican Senate President Mike Thibodeau of Winterport took part in an AARP-sponsored telephone call-in session earlier this week to promote the bond’s passage.
Among those who called into the program was Howard Angione of Kennebunk, a longtime summer resident who, along with his wife, now make Kennebunk their year-round home. Following a career in newspaper journalism, Angione practiced elder law in New York.
“I support the bond,” he said. “This type of opportunity should be available to people who are seniors.”
So does William Keefer, executive director of the Sanford Housing Authority. Keefer, in a Journal Tribune letter to the editor dated Oct. 7, urged support.
“We have many seniors who are struggling to maintain safe, affordable homes,” he wrote. “Thousands of Maine seniors, after a lifetime of hard work, are wondering how they can afford to pay their rent or maintain their home.”
He pointed out that developers will pay property tax on the projects paid for by the proposed bond.
Not everyone supports the bond. Although his press and communications staff did not respond to questions on how Gov. Paul LePage views the proposal, it was among several bills he attempted to veto earlier this year, but missed the deadline. In July, LePage told Maine Public Broadcasting Network reporters he intended to veto the bill because he said, the Maine State Housing Authority already has the authority to bond, and he believes the bill was a ‘feel good’ measure that would set a dangerous precedent as a general obligation bond.
Greg Payne, a member of the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition, who works for Avesta, Inc., a nonprofit affordable housing developer, has first-hand knowledge of the necessity of affordable senior housing. He said in the first six months of 2014, 450 senior households contacted the agency to inquire about housing; in the first six months of 2015, that figure climbed to 650.
Angione, harking to his career representing seniors and the elderly, sees the value of planning ahead as much as possible. He advises young people to start planning and develop a strategy for retirement. And he also urged everyone to get out and vote. Young people, he said, should think of their parents and grandparents as they cast their vote on Question 2 on the referendum ballot Nov. 3,
“The message also is that it’s important for the young as well as seniors themselves, to go to the ballot box,” he said.