AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine lawmakers unveiled a plan Monday to allow denser development to try to curb a growing lack of affordable housing in the state.
The proposal comes at a time when rental prices have gone up by 25% or more in some communities, and home prices are soaring throughout the state. Lawmakers proposed a bill that would allow up to four units on lots zoned for single-family housing.
The proposal would also require the state's government to provide grants and technical assistance to cities and towns to revise their own zoning rules. Additionally, it would allow property owners to build accessory dwelling units in any residential zone.
House Speaker Ryan Fecteau, a Democrat and the presenter of the bill, said the proposal will help communities in Maine remove “outdated zoning regulations that prevent housing from being built from the outset.” He said the affordable housing crunch and rising rental rates are a problem throughout Maine.
“You cannot possibly look at this as a problem only related to areas like Portland or Bangor or Lewiston-Auburn,” he said. “This is a statewide problem.”
The costs of homes and rentals have risen so much in Maine that one in five Mainers is spending more than half their income on housing costs, Fecteau said.
Fecteau's proposal was the subject of a public hearing before the Maine Legislature's Committee on Labor and Housing on Monday. The proposal would eventually need the approval of the full Maine Legislature.
The proposal received criticism from some who felt it could undermine local control of development. The proposal could lead to “erosion of local decision-making authority,” said Kate Dufour, testifying for the Maine Municipal Association.
“No two municipalities are alike. Absent in this version of the bill is support for the local ingenuity necessary to ensure that plans can be implemented in each community,” Dufour said.
Other groups testified in support of the measure. Eamonn Dundon, director of advocacy at the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the group supports the proposal because “zoning status quo deprives Mainers of their property rights and basic freedoms.”