Update on Maine Commission to Increase Housing Opportunities in Maine

A new commission is evaluating how policies affect the development of affordable housing in Maine.

In June 2021 Governor Mills approved a resolve, L.D. 609 (http://www.mainelegislature.org/legis/bills/getPDF.asp?paper=HP0445&item=6&snum=130) To Establish a Commission To Increase Housing Opportunities in Maine by Studying Zoning and Land Use Restrictions. The Maine State Legislature has deliberated housing legislation in recent years, on topics such as Accessory Dwelling Units and Tiny Homes, among others. L.D. 609, however, is not focused on a single proposal, but on an evaluation of the broader policy framework that influences housing creation in Maine. The 15 member commission was charged to:

  1. Review data on housing shortages in the State for low-income and middle-income households;
  2. Review state laws that affect the local regulation of housing;
  3. Review efforts in other states and municipalities to address housing shortages through changes to zoning and land use restrictions;
  4. Consider measures that would encourage increased housing options in the State, including but not limited to municipal incentives, state mandates, eliminating or limiting single-family-only zones and allowing greater housing density near transit, jobs, schools or neighborhood centers; and
  5. Review and consider the historical role of race and racism in zoning policies and the best measures to ensure that state and municipal zoning laws do not serve as barriers to racial equality.

The schedule for the Commission to complete their work was 90 days, slated to conclude this past November, and eventually extended into December (links to all meetings and related materials are available on the Maine State Legislature website: https://legislature.maine.gov/legislative-studies-130th-legislature/commission-to-increase-housing-opportunities-in-maine). 

The recommendations center on a mixture of mandates, incentives, and financial and technical assistance to municipalities. These include requiring that Accessory Dwelling Units be allowed by right in residential zoning districts; eliminating single family zoning in residential zoning districts; prohibiting growth caps on affordable housing; reducing minimum lot sizes and relaxing parking requirements; establishing priority development areas; creating residential density bonuses for affordable housing; creating financial incentive programs for municipalities to encourage equitable housing policies; and providing communities with technical and financial assistance for the policy changes needed to support affordable housing.

Kate Dufour, Director of State and Federal Relations for Maine Municipal Association, as a Commissioner, convened a working group of representatives from 22 communities and two regional planning agencies across the state. The working group, consisting of planners, town managers, and elected officials, ultimately informed Commissioner Dufour’s input into the recommendations. There was a wide range of opinions among the working group members on this initiative and on the recommendations. Ultimately, there was some consensus on many of the recommendation areas. However, those areas of agreement placed emphasis on incentives, on financial and technical assistance to communities, and a strong preference for continued local control in implementation details.

The findings of the Study (Draft: https://legislature.maine.gov/doc/7578) will be forwarded to the Joint Standing Committee on Labor and Housing, at which point there will be new opportunities to provide input to the Legislature as they deliberate the future of housing policy in Maine. 

Written by:

Christine Grimando, AICP, Director Planning & Urban Development Department, City of Portland

Christine Grimando, AICP, joined the Planning & Urban Development Department in 2014 as a Senior Planner and became City Planning Director in 2019. She has managed an array of policy initiatives, large scale development review projects, and the creation of Portland’s new Comprehensive Plan. Prior to joining the department she served as a planner in Maine, Massachusetts and New York. She’s a past recipient of an Urban and Regional Policy Fellowship from the German Marshall Fund to study urban sustainability initiatives in the UK and Italy. She holds a Master of Science in Urban Planning from Columbia University.