March 30, 2016
By Judie Currie
BERWICK, Maine — Advocates for affordable senior housing are hoping that the legislature can make an end run around the governor to free up funding.
According to the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition, despite months of efforts by advocates and legislators on both sides of the aisle, Governor Paul LePage has not released the senior affordable housing bond that was approved by 69 percent of Maine’s voters last November.
In November, as Mainers headed to polls to vote on the bond, Avesta Housing President Dana Totman said they had 143 people on a waiting list for a development in Kittery, 81 waiting for a development in Berwick, and more than 300 waiting for two projects in Wells.
According to Maine Affordable Housing Coalition Director Greg Payne, the Maine Housing Authority cannot issue a request for proposals (RFP) without the release of the bond.
“There is an 18-unit project in Waterville that is shovel-ready and other projects that could get funded and go forward right away if the funds were released,” Payne said. “There is another layer of projects around the state that are in different stages of readiness, including projects where developers are hesitant to spend on predevelopment costs.”
Payne said the projects that have already applied to Maine Housing for funding are sitting on a waiting list, while the rest are waiting for the RFP to even apply.
On Monday, a joint order was passed by the House of Representatives and it now moves on for consideration by the Senate. The joint order will empower a legislative committee to force the bond’s timely release without the governor's signature.
A coalition of seniors, builders, housing organizations and legislators held a press conference at the State House to demand the release of the bond.
“Governor LePage’s reasons for ignoring the will of the people have been all over the map,” Payne said. “Ranging from claims that the bond would hurt the state’s credit rating - it won’t, to the suggestion that it’s not really needed - it is, to recent speculation that the initiative is a get-rich-quick scheme that permits property owners to raise rents on unsuspecting seniors after one year.”
According to Payne, anyone associated with affordable housing development in Maine, and the strict rules that govern its operation, knows how “patently absurd” the claim is.
Lori Parham, AARP Maine state director, said Maine’s senior housing shortage is at a crisis point. Nearly 9,000 older Mainers are waiting for affordable housing options in their communities.
“Mainers should not have to wait one day longer for affordable housing options that will help them age in place,” said Lori Parham, AARP Maine State Director. “High housing costs force millions of low-income older adults to sacrifice spending on other necessities including food, undermining their health and well-being. On behalf of our 230,000 members in the state, AARP Maine calls upon Governor LePage to release the Housing Bond funds immediately.”
According to AARP, some seniors are being told it will be at least five years before they will have a home and without action the shortfall of affordable housing will grow to more than 15,000 by 2022.
Payne said the joint order has worked in the past to gain the release of highway funds.
“State legislators, who had been hoping to win the bond’s release through reasonable discussion with the Governor over the past months but have been rebuffed, are now making a powerful effort to ensure that the voters’ will is respected,” Payne said.