From statewide mandates coming down from Augusta to municipal-level initiatives, affordable housing has become a priority for elected officials in Maine, especially as the supply of available housing remains near historic lows.
The City of South Portland is one municipality that has taken the lead on the issue of affordable housing.
Most recently, the South Portland City Council’s Affordable Housing Committee launched a program to fund interest free loans for developers working on affordable housing projects.
The Committee is set to hold a meeting on August 17 to discuss whether or not the City should pursue allocating additional funding for the program.
According to the initial outline, a maximum of $400,000 would be made available to finance these loans.
Of that money, $300,000 was to come from funds received under the federal government through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The other $100,000 was to be sourced from the City’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund should the ARPA money was expended.
It is the allocation of this additional $100,000 that is up for discussion later this week.
Earlier this month, the City Council held a day-long public listening session wherein affordable housing emerged as a key concern of residents. Also revealed was a desire to maintain an abundance of “parks and green spaces” in the city. Since constructing affordable housing requires developing on open land, these goals are generally at odds with each other.
The City of South Portland is also considering approval of a special zoning agreement with L&R Northpoint Holdings LLC and PK Realty Management LLC for a project known as Yard South.
The development would consist of 1,200 residential apartments, 100 hotel rooms, and 216,400 square feet worth of buildings for “mixed nonresidential uses” near Bug Light Park in South Portland. If approved, the development would be built on the 30 acres of land that formerly served as the West Shipyard, where Liberty Ships were built during World War II.
Yard South developers have stated that at least 10 percent of the units — or 120 apartments — will be designated as affordable housing. Project leaders have also said that in addition to this, they intend to “encourage mixed income buildings with even more affordable housing.”
[RELATED: Everything You Need to Know About Yard South]
All this has been happening against the backdrop of a statewide push to expand affordable housing opportunities in all municipalities. Last year, the Legislature approved a bill imposing a number of one-size fits-all requirements on municipalities statewide with the goal of increasing the availability of affordable housing.
Among the changes set in motion by the bill were the effective elimination of single-family residential zoning and the universal allowance of accessory dwelling units (ADUs) alongside existing single-family homes.
The bill also required that affordable housing developments be permitted a density 2.5 times that which would otherwise be allowed in a given location.
The bill stated that affordable housing developments are only required to provide two parking spaces for every three units constructed. Similarly, the bill prevented ADUs from being subjected to parking availability requirements beyond those already in place for the lot on which they are constructed.
Although municipalities were granted an extension earlier this summer giving them until 2024 to comply with the new rules, towns and cities throughout the state having been working to incorporate these new requirements into their existing zoning ordinances.
In July, the Cape Elizabeth Town Council met to discuss the topic of affordable housing, including updating the town’s ordinances to comply with the state’s new regulations.
As part of these efforts, the Town Council also considered a proposal to construct an affordable housing development on the Town-owned Gull Crest property. According to the Town Engineer, the development could ultimately contain as many as 866 units under the new ordinances, a total that is more than 11-times higher than what would be allowed on the property under the area’s current zoning laws.
More recently, the Town of Saco has been considering how best to incorporate the new statewide affordable housing mandates in their existing zoning ordinances. Efforts in Saco have primarily been focused on ironing out the details regarding the implementation of new ADU zoning ordinances.
Although the new state law dictates much of what municipalities must include in their updated ordinances, there are still a number of details that must be worked out on the local level, including the maximum allowable size for ADUs, the regulations surrounding their use for short-term rentals, and the process by which property owners would need to apply in order to construct them.
Under the extension granted by the Legislature this past session, “municipalities for which ordinances may be enacted by the municipal officers without further action or approval by the voters of the municipality” have until January 1, 2024 to make the necessary changes, while all other municipalities have until July 1, 2024.
Read the Supplementary Materials from the South Portland City Council’s Affordable Housing Committee
Read LD 2003