Housing availability and affordability was a common theme at today’s Legislative Council appeals hearing.
Last week, the Council voted down a number of bills geared toward increasing access to housing — and affordable housing in particular — throughout Maine, but some lawmakers went the extra step of appealing their decisions in hopes that Council members would change their minds.
One such legislator was Sen. Ben Chipman (D-Cumberland), who appealed the Council’s rejection of his bill titled “An Act to Address Maine’s Affordable Housing Crisis.”
According to Sen. Chipman’s comments at the hearing, this bill would have prohibited municipalities from setting a minimum permissible unit size smaller than the state-required 200 square feet.
Sen. Chipman pointed to the Lewiston Housing Authority’s scrapped project to convert a former Ramada Inn into a “transitional housing” facility for Mainers on the “fringes of homelessness” due to the size of the preexisting rooms.
Although the hotel rooms met the qualifications set by the state, they were too small according to local Lewiston ordinances.
The Legislative Council voted to once again reject Chipman’s bill, with just three members expressing support for the measure.
Sen. Mattie Daughtry (D-Cumberland) also filed a motion to appeal the Council’s rejection of her bill concerning the construction of workforce housing.
Titled “An Act to Create Workforce Housing to Promote Economic Development in Maine,” Sen. Daughtry’s bill aims to address “a hole” that she described as existing for workers making between $17 and $24 an hour that makes housing largely unattainable.
In advocating for her bill, Daughtry cited a recent report from the Maine Housing Authority that revealed a need for more than 84,000 new homes over the next seven years.
The Legislative Council voted along party lines in support of allowing the bill to be considered during the second legislative session.
Another bill — titled “An Act to Improve the Housing Voucher System” — was appealed by Rep. Cheryl A. Golek (D-Harpswell).
Rep. Golek explained that as a member of the Housing Committee, she has heard from landlords that they often choose to not accept Section 8 housing vouchers on account of the fact that they don’t pay enough to support their needs.
If Golek’s bill were to pass, it would allow for the collection of data necessary to determine if — and if so, by how much — the state ought to increase the maximum amount paid to landlords via acceptance of a Section 8 housing voucher.
Golek noted in her appeal that the majority of those who utilize Section 8 vouchers are either elderly or disabled.
The Council voted in support of her motion to appeal with just two members opposing the bill. Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham (R-Winter Harbor) was absent at the time this vote was taken.
Lastly, Sen. Matt Pouliot (R-Kennebec) appealed the Council’s rejection of his bill titled “An Act to Increase Housing Options in Maine.”
Since Sen. Pouliot was unable to make it to today’s hearing, Sen. Lisa Keim (R-Oxford) — a member of the Legislative Council — read an appeal letter on his behalf.
“As everyone is aware,” Pouliot wrote in his letter, “we desperately need more housing in Maine.”
Pouliot went on to explain that his intentions for the bill were to expand training opportunities for Mainers to become licensed installers for manufactured homes.
According to his letter, manufactured housing is expected to become a key element of solving Maine’s housing crisis, and ensuring that the state has the workforce necessary to make this happen is critical to the success of these efforts.
After some initial confusion over Pouliot’s plans for the bill given some discrepancies between his original proposal and the appeal letter, Pouliot reached out to confirm that his letter was reflective of how he would proceed with crafting the bill if it were green-lighted to move forward in the legislative process.
The Council then voted along party lines to reject Pouliot’s motion to appeal.
Although Daughtry’s and Golek’s bills have been approved for consideration during the next legislative session by the Council, they still have a long way to go before they have the potential to become part of state law.
The second session is scheduled to begin on January 3, 2024, at which time lawmakers will start to make their way through the various proposals approved by the Legislative Council over the course of the past week.
Legislators will also be tasked early next year with working through the large number of bills that were carried over from the previous session at various stages of the legislative process.
Sen. Ben Chipman (D-Cumberland), Sen. Mattie Daughtry (D-Cumberland), Rep. Cheryl A. Golek (D-Harpswell), and Sen. Matt Pouliot (R-Kennebec) did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Maine Wire.