Maine’s housing crisis is building a growing bipartisan will to find solutions

Auburn Mayor Jason Levesque remembers when he was a kid, riding around with his single mom, imagining what it would be like to live in one of the city’s nicer homes.

Eight years ago, he bought one of their favorites, a stately white colonial perched on a hillside zoned for agriculture and resource protection. Built in 1941, it’s a striking solitary landmark near the Lost Valley Ski Area. It’s also a far cry from the trailer where he grew up.

The zoning saves him about $600 a year in property taxes, he says, but it prevents people from building houses nearby unless they earn at least 30 percent of their income from agriculture. It angers the business consultant and landlord that city policies have perpetuated restrictions on land ownership and housing development that he now sees as exclusionary and detrimental to many residents.

Levesque, a self-described “I bleed red” Republican, is calling out zoning regulations that he says are contributing to a long-simmering housing crisis – one that has grown more acute during the COVID-19 pandemic and spread to every region in Maine. He’s pushing for zoning reform as a way to fight “socioeconomic discrimination” and suburban sprawl, embrace sustainable development and “good growth,” and promote the “progression of Auburn as a city.”