Democratic State Rep. Benjamin Collings of Portland is seeking to amend Article I of the Constitution of Maine to include a “right to housing” for all individuals.
Rep. Collings’ LD 853 is a resolution that, if passed by two thirds of each branch of the State Legislature, would give Mainer’s the opportunity to vote in a statewide referendum on whether the “right to housing” should be added to the Maine Constitution.
The “right to housing” as it appears in Collings’ resolution, reads: “All individuals have a natural, inherent and unalienable right to housing.”
The most recent amendment to be added to the “Declaration of Rights” portion of the Maine Constitution was the “right to food,” which was adopted by referendum in November 2021 with the support of 60 percent of Maine voters.
“In my opinion, part of the problem in our state and nationally that has led to the current housing crisis is that we have treated the basic need for housing as a commodity and not as a basic human right,” Rep. Collings told the Housing Committee during a Tuesday public hearing on his bill.
“Guaranteeing a right to housing will set up a framework where the state will have a duty to do more for those without homes, and those who may have to spend sometimes half of their monthly income to have access to the most basic shelter,” he said.
During his testimony, Collings responded to criticism that his proposal to establish a right to housing “would mean that Maine will be giving people free homes.”
“That is a very inaccurate assessment, and that is not our constitutional rights work,” Collings said. “The Second Amendment, for example, offers certain rights for gun ownership. However, it doesn’t mean that the government gives away free guns to individuals.”
Similarly, Collings argued, his proposal would “protect the right to shelter for individuals,” and would not mean that “everyone gets a free home.”
Currently, under Article I, Section I of the Maine Constitution, “possessing and protecting property” is listed as a natural, inherent and unalienable right.
Collings told the Housing Committee Tuesday that the right to housing, if enacted, would be subject to the discretion of state and municipal governments “on how they would back up the right [to housing] for individuals and families.”
The Portland Democrat’s proposal comes as Maine is facing a severe shortage in housing supply and affordability that has worsened since the COVID-19 pandemic.
The October 2023 State of Maine Housing Production Needs Study found that Maine households need to make over $100,000 annually in order to afford the median home price.
The study, which was overseen by the Maine State Housing Authority and Gov. Janet Mills’ Office of Policy Innovation and the Future, estimated that Maine will need approximately 80,000 new homes by 2030 to meet expected population growth.