[Hpn] Housing crunch at top of ballot;Portland Press Herald;Maine;10/29/01
Morgan W. Brown
Mon, 29 Oct 2001 12:24:30 -0500
Monday, October 29, 2001
Portland Press Herald <http://www.portland.com>
Housing crunch at top of ballot
By JOHN RICHARDSON, Portland Press Herald Writer
Copyright © 2001 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.
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The first question on the state referendum ballot Nov. 6 may hit close to
home, especially if your home is an apartment in southern Maine.
Should the state borrow $12 million to upgrade and expand the supply of
affordable rental housing?
In Portland and across the southern end of the state, a shortage of rental
housing has become a crisis. The lack of vacancies is pushing up rents far
faster than incomes are rising, and it is filling homeless shelters and
frustrating employers who struggle to recruit new workers.
To the north, housing is a problem for a different reason. It may be
affordable and available, but many houses and rental units are old,
substandard and even unsafe.
In Waterville, for example, a recent survey found that only 10 percent of
apartments met standards for decent and safe affordable housing, says Mary
Ann Gleason, a leader of the coalition backing Question 1.
As a result, Question 1 has broad support. Backers include the leaders of
the state's Chamber of Commerce and homeless men and women who sleep on
floor mats in Portland's emergency shelter.
"This is an issue that affects everybody, from people who are mentally ill
or homeless to people who are teaching in our school systems," Gleason said.
"The resources are key. Certainly this (bond) won't solve the problems, but
it will be helpful."
There is no public opposition to the bond, though backers worry that
economic uncertainty could scuttle the funding.
If approved, $2 million from the bond would be used to create additional
apartment units specifically for victims of domestic abuse.
Women can escape violence at home by moving into temporary emergency
shelters. But then they find almost no affordable permanent housing where
they can start over, says Lois Reckitt, director of the Family Crisis
Center. "There's no problem larger," she said.
About 500 women and children will come to the agency's two shelters during
the year. Some of them will move back home, back into dangerous situations,
because of the lack of housing, she says. "They often have no place to go."
The remaining $10 million of the bond would be used by the Maine State
Housing Authority to rehabilitate existing housing, buy land for development
and provide low-interest loans to build new affordable units. The agency
hopes to create 500 to 750 new units statewide with the money.
Some of the funding also would go to low-income homeowners who cannot afford
to do needed repairs, the agency says.
Although the money would be spread around the state and the housing market,
the state has identified two priorities: housing for the homeless and the
The number of homeless people in Maine has jumped 40 percent in the last
five years. Portland's Oxford Street Shelter overflowed last month for the
first time since opening 12 years ago. Because the city and other
communities have a historically low supply of the most inexpensive rooms and
apartments, there is often no way out.
At least a third of Maine's homeless are believed to have mental illnesses.
While Maine has successfully moved the mentally ill from institutions into
communities, it has never provided adequate subsidized housing, Gleason
There also has been little new housing built for young workers who would
come to take jobs with Maine companies.
The lack of apartments at all levels of the market is now a common problem
for southern Maine companies trying to recruit professionals. "It is
obviously an economic development issue," Gleason said.
The coalition backing Question 1 originally pushed for a $20 million bond.
Voter approval next week would help, advocates say. But the impact will be
spread out, and the money won't solve the crisis in southern Maine.
"What the coalition is hoping to do is get an overwhelmingly strong 'yes'
vote so we can take that back in future years," said Donna Yellin, who works
with the poor and homeless at the Preble Street Resource Center in Portland.
"Hopefully, this will be a start."
Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:
Question 1 on the Nov. 6 ballot reads: Should the state borrow $12 million
to upgrade and expand the supply of affordable rental housing? If approved,
$2 million from the bond would be used to create apartment units for victims
of domestic abuse. The remaining $10 million would be used by the Maine
State Housing Authority to rehabilitate housing, buy land for development
and provide low-interest loans to build new affordable units.
**In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this
material is distributed without charge or profit to
those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving
this type of information for non-profit research and
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Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA
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