Maine Legislators, Coalition Work to Address Senior Housing Needs Via Bond InitiativeIn February, the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition (MAHC) released new research on Maine’s senior population, housing stock and unmet senior housing needs. They met with a bipartisan group of legislators, calling for passage of a general obligation bond proposal to help address those needs at Augusta’s Cony Flatiron Building, formerly a high school. The building is currently undergoing dramatic renovations and being repurposed into 48 units of affordable senior housing by Portland-based Housing Initiatives of New England.
According to the data released, Maine has a shortage of nearly 9,000 affordable rental homes for low income older people with projected growth to 15,000 by 2022. It also found that Maine has the 8th oldest housing stock in the nation.
House Speaker Mark Eves (D-York) and Sen. David Burns (R-Washington), co-chairs of the Legislature’s aging caucus, spoke to the press and discussed legislation they are co-sponsoring to address the problem. Their “KeepME Home” initiative would authorize a $65 million general obligation bond, which would be used in combination with a mix of private and public resources to create 1,000 highly energy-efficient homes for Maine’s seniors in strategic locations across the state.
Later it was announced that eight statewide organizations representing the housing, development, construction, architectural, and engineering sectors released a letter to Governor Paul LePage and the 127th Legislature, signed by over 150 companies and organizations across the state, seeking legislative approval of the general obligation bond initiative.
Eves issued a statement:
- “The growing support and momentum for our bipartisan KeepME Home bond bodes well for Maine seniors and our economy,” said Eves. “Organizations from across the state are standing behind the proposal because it will help seniors live independently longer while also creating good construction and housing jobs across the state.”
Governor LePage appeared not to be convinced:
- “By using general obligation bonds for senior housing we are placing the State in deeper debt and putting additional burden on the backs of Maine taxpayers,” said Governor LePage. “The Maine State Housing Authority has the ability to issue bonds to finance affordable senior housing under its current authority. I support the balanced approach they are taking already with the resources they have.”
Governor LePage stressed his strong and continued support for Maine’s senior citizens, but expressed concerns about some of the details in the proposed $65 million bond. Those concerns include trying to build 1,000 new units and putting developments in every county, something that may not be financially viable. He also raised a concern that the proposal may not serve the state’s neediest senior citizens. “MaineHousing already is creating 250 – 300 new apartments each and every year. About half of them are for seniors and the rest are for other needy Mainers. They are trying to balance competing needs,” said Governor LePage.
The Governor also commented on a recent study that determined there is a need for 9,000 affordable senior apartments. “If you look at the study you find that they define elderly as just 55 years of age. That inflates the number of units need – it would be a bit smaller if they used a more realistic age such as 65.”
The Governor noted that in addition to allocating federal tax credits, MaineHousing is authorized to sell private activity bonds and other bonds and has subsidy resources available. “I’ve urged MaineHousing to continue to use these resources to their fullest to meet the needs of our vulnerable elderly population.”