February 2007 – Housing within reach of lower- and middle-income Mainers is slipping away. The statistics are startling.
Between 2000 and 2005 (the last period for which there is Census data), the median income of a Maine household rose 14.2%. That's good news. The bad news is that in the same five years, the price of an average 2-bedroom rental unit in Maine rose 32.5%, according to the Census. And the sale price of a median home rose 67.4%! Both apartments and owner occupied homes are much less affordable today in most parts of Maine than they were in 2000.
Renting or buying our own homes are the keys to feeling grown up, independent and part of the American dream. Our parents did it when they started a family and we want to do it for our families. Finding a home is also expensive, often prohibitively so, especially in Southern, Central and Coastal Maine. For that reason, Mainers have seen fit to fund various state programs that help people afford homes.When we, as a society, make housing more affordable, we are not only helping our modest income neighbors realize their dreams, but also acting in our own self-interest and ultimately improving the quality of life for us all. Conversely, when we restrict state housing programs and leave too many people at the mercy of the free market, we ultimately diminish the quality of life that we all seek for everyone in Maine.
Consider the following ramifications of the lack of affordable housing:
Governor Baldacci has just taken an important step to try to stem this tide. For years, half of Maine's real estate transfer tax proceeds to the State were directed to MaineHousing's HOME fund, to finance affordable housing. In several recent state budgets, $7.5 million per year of these housing funds were diverted to other non-housing priorities. The Governor has now proposed returning these funds to the HOME fund in the 2008-09 budget. With housing becoming less and less affordable to many Mainers, it is vital that the Legislature preserve these funds.
The problem of unattainable housing is not just a problem for lower to moderate income people among us; it affects us all. Legislators and others should support funding affordable housing both because it is the right thing to do for people who are struggling, and because it helps everyone.
** Nathan S. Szanton is Managing Principal of Workforce Housing, a Portland-based company which develops mixed-income rental housing. Dana Totman is CEO of Maine's largest non profit housing agency, Avesta Housing.