Friday, June 7, 2024

Jane Pringle: Tackling Maine’s housing crisis head-on

By State Rep. Jane Pringle

It is no secret that our state is in the midst of a housing crisis, which has been exacerbated by a combination of factors over the years that has meant building production has not kept up with demand. The result is a shortage of housing units statewide, which has had real-life consequences on Mainers from all walks of life. Many families have been unable to purchase their first home, some are struggling to find housing close to their workplaces or schools, and others are having a hard time affording their rent or property taxes.

State Rep. Jane Pringle
In October 2023, the Maine State Housing Authority released a study that sets a production target of 84,300 homes by 2030 to compensate for the current underproduction while keeping pace with increased demand. Simply put, our housing stock requires investment, and our homeowners and renters need support. Recognizing this, my colleagues and I in the legislature have taken proactive steps to prioritize long-term solutions and emergency fixes, fully understanding that the housing crisis is a systemic issue that demands comprehensive treatment.

Over the last two years, the legislature has provided substantial funds to support the unhoused population throughout our state, so more of our neighbors can have a safe place to sleep at night. We’ve appropriated more than $21 million for emergency housing initiatives and $7.5 million for low-barrier shelters. We’ve also invested in the “Housing First” model, a proven and effective strategy in addressing homelessness. This approach is both adaptable and compassionate as it prioritizes providing permanent housing to those in need without prerequisites or conditions. In addition, $2 million has been earmarked for housing subsidies for homeless students, a demographic that often goes unnoticed in our unhoused population.

We have also made significant policy strides to invest in affordable housing development, which will help make more units available in the coming years. This includes providing additional funds to the Rural Affordable Housing Program, which provides financial assistance to developers to create affordable housing in rural areas. We have also increased the Low-Income Tax Credit, a tax incentive for developers who build or rehabilitate affordable rental housing. These measures will make it easier for residents who are currently struggling to find a home by increasing the number of units available

Strengthening our state’s economy is always a top priority. One way that we can continue to support businesses while growing new industries is to make sure that workers are able to find a place to live. With that in mind, the legislature passed a bill to create the Workforce Housing Development Loan Fund, which will provide low-interest loans to support the development of affordable workforce housing.

Recognizing that a significant portion of Mainers are renters, we have also made it a priority to increase tenant protections. First, we enacted a bill that will limit fees that landlords can impose and increase transparency around “hidden fees” in lease agreements. Next, we established a commission to maximize the Section 8 housing voucher program, a lifeline for so many. This commission will investigate ways to improve access to housing vouchers and tenant-landlord relations to make the program more effective and efficient. Additionally, collaborating with MaineHousing once more, we enacted a bill to establish a two-year pilot program to support eviction prevention.

All of this legislation represents only a sampling of all we have accomplished during this past legislative session to mitigate the stress caused by our state’s housing crisis and help meet the goals outlined by MaineHousing back in October. There is no doubt that more must be done, but I am proud of the policies that my colleagues and I have enacted, and I am confident that these measures will lead to meaningful and lasting change.

Rep. Jane Pringle is serving her second non-consecutive term in the Maine House of Representatives, having previously represented Windham from 2012-2014. She is a member of the Legislature’s Health Coverage, Insurance and Financial Services Committee. <

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