Midcoast state legislative candidates discuss housing shortage, re-entry housing, emergency shelters

Tue, 10/13/2020 - 11:00am

    The topic of expanding housing opportunities, particularly for low income individuals or families, has been a longstanding topic throughout the years. Before the pandemic, the topic moved towards the forefront of issues advocates wish to address in Maine. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, the issue has become much more prevalent for affordable housing advocates.  

    Penobscot Bay Pilot has posed questions to each candidate running for Maine State Legislature, providing the opportunity for the public to better understand their position on issues important to the state. Candidates responding with their individual written answers will have their responses stored in the Pilot’s 2020 Election Resource Guide.

    Among the 14 questions posed to each candidate was a question asking each candidate to discuss, given the shortfall of housing in their district, how should the state approach the need for more workforce housing, as well as re-entry housing for the formerly incarcerated, and emergency shelter for those suffering through extended power outages?

    Below are the responses to this question from each candidate that responded to an inquiry from PenBayPilot.com. To read more responses from each candidate about their thoughts on important issues, click on their name. 

    Midcoast legislative districts with races in November include House Districts 91 through 99, as well as District 131, and Senate Districts 11 through 13. The incumbents in House Districts 92 and 94 are not being challenged. 

    The following candidates did not respond to numerous invitations to participate in the Q&A series: Lowell Wallace (House District 91), Ann Matlack (House District 92), William Elliott (House District 97), Scott Cuddy (House District 98), Jessica Connor (House District 98), MaryAnne Kinney (House District 99), April Turner (House District 99), Sherman Hutchins (House District 131), and Dana Dow (Senate District 13). 


    Jeffrey Evangelos 
    Candidate for House District 91

    I will support efforts by the Maine Housing Authority to expand affordable housing. We also need to invest in both structured re-entry programs and housing to help assure those formerly incarcerated begin productive lives. Regarding emergency shelters, our current emergency responders are doing a good job of responding to this.


    Valli Geiger
    Candidate for House District 93

    Maine has some of the oldest housing stock in the U.S. New construction and renovation costs have risen by 42% per square foot in just a little over a decade. Two-thirds of Maine households use fossil fuels for heat, contributing to climate change, local pollution and high energy costs. Young people are increasingly priced out of housing, both owning and renting.

    Businesses in District 93, are unable to find and keep workers due to both housing costs and availability. This means Rockland and Owls Head can’t attract teachers, nurses, police officers, fire fighters, engineers, designers, welders, and service workers. Businesses can’t expand, start ups look elsewhere.

    It is critical that Knox County address housing. As a City councilor I have worked hard over the last six years to address housing in our area. We worked with Habitat for Humanity, offering them first refusal when a house came to Rockland through foreclosure. We created a zoning change allowing Habitat to do a small house project, bringing 12 new small, energy efficient, and affordable houses to Rockland, offering 12 Rockland families the opportunity for home ownership and housing stability.

    Rockland now allows tiny and small houses on wheels in Mobile Home Parks, providing another avenue for first home buyers to get affordable housing. But we need to scale up, and here the state could play a role. We need affordable housing for the elderly, and there are great projects by people like Cyndi Taylor, taking old school buildings like Cony High School in Augusta and creating beautiful small apartments for those 55 and up. But we need more. We need to make sure elderly homeowners who want to remain in the community have a place to go when they can no longer keep up with a house too large for their needs.

    We need more apartments for the young workers who want to live here and we need the ability to create buildable lots for new housing. People are flocking here, houses are being snapped up by out of state buyers for 2nd homes, but new workforce housing is scarce. As a state representative I would want to look at which regulations provide tiny benefits but big barriers to affordable new construction, work to increase the amount of elderly housing projects and think creatively about affordable housing, like small manufactured housing as a solution to homelessness and workforce access.


    Michael Mullins
    Candidate for House District 93

    We do not have a shortfall of housing in this district. A City of Rockland committee tasked with studying housing affordability found that there are over 500 vacant homes in the City of Rockland, for example. The shortfall we face is one of affordable housing. One factor is the tax burden. Rockland residents may remember times when you could rent an apartment for $600 or a whole house for under $1,000. But a landlord can't rent a place to someone for $900 if they are paying $500 in taxes. The property tax burden is perhaps the biggest drag on the number of affordable homes in Rockland. Code issues, second. There are local code requirements to include sprinkler systems in most single family construction, which is surprising because it is expensive. The City should also be encouraging entry-level housing and make sure that codes do not price it out.

    Zoning too is a determinant of affordability, but Rockland's codes already allow multifamily development and relatively small lot sizes. It's easy to find land allowing duplexes multi-units, or flag lots. The problem from an economic perspective is that rents do not cover the cost of new construction. As long as this is the case, there will be little new construction of rentals. They city should do everything it can to encourage the new construction of homes, which has the follow-on benefit of lowering the tax burden. Another way to reduce the tax burden is to welcome investment in the city. The city has banned new vacation rentals, but this is counterproductive, because that type of investment is needed, and vacation rentals disproportionately contribute to a bustling Main Street. The city should welcome new sources of vitality, and the coast of Maine has always welcomed visitors. The solution to housing affordability is not to try to depress housing prices by tinkering with markets, because as Rockland has seen, the result is that people can just buy those homes and keep them off the market altogether. Rather, the answer is to have a booming local economy and all that comes with it.

    The state can play a role as well, in housing production including producing supportive housing and shelters. We need a housing-first policy for dealing with substance abuse and mental health problems. I have 20 years of experience building and managing affordable housing and working with state finance agencies and HUD. I want to elevate MaineHousing into one of the premier state housing finance agencies by expanding rental lending, first-time home-buying programs, and supportive housing programs. The most successful housing finance agencies require no state funding because they actually make money through section 8 contract administration and from portfolio loans and fees. Some actually can return funds to the state treasury every year. We need to make MaineHousing a standout amongst its peers. And further, we can support smart growth at the state level, encouraging Maine's cities to grow without an overgrowth of roads and highways.


    Victoria Doudera
    Candidate for House District 94

    My focus on housing as a foundation for a healthy Maine is bolstered by my profession as a realtor, along with my longtime advocacy for and involvement with Habitat for Humanity. It’s my strong belief that safe, affordable places to live are the key to stable families, lower rates of depression and substance abuse, and a better economy.

    I was pleased to cosponsor several bills that increased affordable housing but we need more solutions, such as working with communities to allow zoning changes for more density, and incentivizing builders to create more affordable units.

    We need to continue working with our prisons to provide housing that will help formerly incarcerated Mainers get back on their feet and re-enter the economy. Again, housing is the bedrock. Emergency shelter for those impacted by storms may be better dealt within communities rather than by the state. but we should be ready to address this in the legislature if we continue to have extended power outages.


    William Pluecker
    Candidate for House District 95

    I am worried that we are going to see our problems with housing only increase due to COVID and the fact that so many people are out of work right now. People have been able to make it through the summer with unemployment from the state, but when winter comes with increased heating costs, and if people are still out of work, we could be facing serious issues as a community.

    We need to see these issues through the lense that the state does not have the additional funds for investing in new programs right now. Nevertheless, if we are able to do the financial analysis of the cost of unhoused families versus the potential increase in cost to our healthcare and criminal justice systems, it might warrant increased investment from the state to keep them in their homes.

    We do not have a good system for dealing with this issue at the moment in the state. Oftentimes, if people are having a hard time with their housing expenses the only place to turn is to General Assistance. We need to create incentives for municipalities and nonprofits to work together with construction companies, so that families in crisis have other places to turn besides General Assistance. Through a voucher system, we could start working with our private construction sector to incentivize the construction of low-cost housing for people who cannot afford more. The system could spread the cost amongst governmental, non-profit, and for-profit sectors, so that it is not just the state addressing the crisis. A voucher system could help strengthen these small businesses who would become employers for folks who are out of work.


    Molly Luce
    Candidate for House District 95

    The state needs to partner with private builders and contractors to support the expansion of housing by building on the assets within communities. Government needs to help build contractors ability to revitalize and provide quality affordable housing. Existing architecture in communities is a part of its heritage and landscape, keeping the history of the community intact.

    In regards to temporary shelter, non-profits, churches and communities should work together to provide placement for individuals and families experiencing difficulties with power outages etc.


    Stanley Paige Zeigler
    Candidate for House District 96

    We have a waiting list of 20,000+ for vouchers and about the same for affordable housing units. Due to Covid, there are over 63,000 Mainers who missed their rental and mortgage payments in July. Our state only invests less than .01% of our budget in housing. Yet this is an important part of people dealing with recovery and reintegration into society after prison. If we don't want them to go back, which will cost more in many ways, we need to invest in housing.

    We can look at including the private sector as there is not enough housing in the public sector. Another way is to incentivize low income housing in municipal TIFs (Tax Increment Housing) with state funds.

    The other part of your question is about emergency housing. I heard that there has been a movement to use failed box stores in shopping malls, the use of public buildings not currently in use and the Bank of America complex in Belfast.


    Katrina Smith
    Candidate for House District 96

    Jobs and employment are the answer. Of course housing is expensive if your job is lower paying and without benefits. Yes we have a housing shortage, but with jobs our citizens will not have to seek assistance for housing, but be able to achieve the American dream on their own.

    We can look at increasing opportunities for affordable housing for those in a situation that does not enable them to have the income which provides them safe and healthy housing. I would seek expert opinions on re-entry services and the need for emergency shelter and make a common sense decision that serves the people who need it.


    Janice Dodge
    Candidate for House District 97

    Affordable housing is a challenge. Solutions range from zoning adjustments that allow tiny homes, subdividing lots and mother-in-law apartments to large scale housing units funded through bonds and Tax Increment Financing (TIF’s). Transitional housing for those who have been incarcerated and a homeless shelter are worthy goals I support. These must be planned and achieved in conjunction with access to case managers, career counselors and social workers.

    I would advocate for a Health and Human Services office in Belfast. Senior housing with step up care is also in short supply. There is not much available land for these projects in Belfast. Congregate living for elders who no longer drive will not work in outlying towns without improved access to affordable and reliable transportation for Belfast and Waldo County.

    This request is near the top of the list of many constituents I hear from in House District #97! I believe shelter for use during extended power outages only experiences an overlap problem if school is in session. State and Federal support is great, but I expect this issue has differing solutions by municipality and facility.


    Veronica Garvey Magnan
    Candidate for House District 131

    While these are important issues, they do not pertain to District 131 in the same way they do to a city or very large town. This is especially true in the large cities in southern Maine. District 131’s biggest challenge of the issues above is keeping the electricity flowing and restored after storms and power outages. The solution is part of a greater shift from delivered power to locally created power. That is a big issue and is covered in several of these answers.


    Glenn ‘Chip’ Curry
    Candidate for Senate District 11

    The cost of housing has skyrocketed over the past ten years and wage gains have not kept up. I believe the state needs to work alongside municipalities as well as the federal government to increase the ability of nonprofits and private businesses to build more affordable housing.


    Duncan Milne
    Candidate for Senate District 11

    The answer is public-private partnerships where the local government can be an enabler but the primary players with ‘skin in the game’ are local business that can benefit from employing many of these segments of our society and help them with a hand up. These same public private partnerships can enable development of emergency assistance programs and shelters that are dual use for workforce and response to catastrophic events.


    David Miramant
    Candidate for Senate District 12

    We need to loosen the restrictions on where affordable housing can be located (beyond a few miles of a large grocery store) and make use of existing unused structures. If housing was available in every town, it would help those towns by bringing in folks who want to be a part of strengthening the community. Through tax credits — funded by more workers living in town rather than commuting — we need to support businesses that turn properties into affordable housing.

    We also have nonprofit organizations that create re-entry and emergency shelters, and they are supported by grants from the state and federal governments along with local contributions. This seems to be a good way to fund these programs.


    Gordon Page
    Candidate for Senate District 12

    These housing issues are as much a responsibility of local municipalities as they are for the state. There are opportunities that can be explored with owners of land parcels that can be developed into affordable rental units.

    Tax incentives for these types of developments need to be enhanced at local levels. There are a number of underutilized and vacant buildings throughout the Midcoast region that are a blight on the landscape, that could, with the right types of persuasion and incentives, be converted to shelter and housing.


    Chloe Maxmin
    Candidate for Senate District 13

    This is definitely an issue in our District. I have heard story after story of local folks getting priced out of the communities that they grew up in because of changing demographics and cultures. I want to fight for the Maine that we all know and love, to keep our culture the way it should be. This means working towards a vision where everyone in our community has access to housing. 

    We know that this is even more important now that we are living through a systemic crisis that is testing the limits. When there is crisis — whether it’s a pandemic or a storm — we need shelters. We need homeless shelters. We need shelters for folks seeking safety from domestic abuse. These services are very limited in our District. I support re-entry housing for the formerly incarcerated to ensure a sustainable pathway to recovery. I also envision workforce housing that supporters workers and businesses coming to our state.

    I see District 13 as a potential hub for these three needs. With our working waterfronts, farms, proximity to larger industrial centers, and rural nature, we are the perfect place to ensure affordable rents, affordable housing centers, re-entry housing, and emergency housing. It is in the rural places that we need these safety nets as well as the opportunity to build out our local economies in a way that keeps our people and our money right here.