Nonprofit head calls Maine’s low-income housing progress ‘dismal’

Maine needs 25,000 more affordable homes, but even when it builds new housing, the elderly and others who need it most cannot afford it, the head of an affordable housing agency said on Wednesday.

Dana Totman, the outgoing president of the nonprofit Avesta Housing, recalls a widower living in a farmhouse with a leaky roof and frozen pipes who remained too stubborn to move out.

When he finally moved into assisted living, “he cleaned up, started putting in his teeth and started eating again.” He died “with complete dignity” a year later.

“That widower was my father,” Totman said.

Maine needs more affordable housing now than at any other point in Avesta’s 50-year history, he said. The pandemic and supply chain issues have made affordable housing less available in the past year. The state’s legislative housing commission proposed an aggressive housing agenda in a  draft report last December that included eliminating single-family zoning. Local groups like the Maine Municipal Association have opposed state-level housing pushes, but Totman said state involvement might be necessary to push zoning and other changes.