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Millions of Dollars of Senior Housing Bonds Released in Maine

Seniors seeking low-cost housing soon will have more options in Maine. (Twenty20)
Seniors seeking low-cost housing soon will have more options in Maine. (Twenty20)
January 16, 2019

AUGUSTA, Maine - Gov. Janet Mills on Tuesday signed off on $15 million of state bonds for affordable senior housing in Maine, more than three years after voters approved the bonds but former Gov. Paul LePage refused to release them.

The move makes $500,000 available immediately to fund repair and weatherization projects to help older Mainers live in their current homes. The rest of the bond money, more than $14 million, will go toward building new low-cost housing.

Greg Payne, director of the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition, has been advocating for the senior housing bonds, and welcomed the news.

"Unfortunately, we spend a whole lot of time telling folks who have real housing needs that the best we can do is put them on a wait list, and it's certainly very frustrating for them," he said. "And so, it feels really good to have a day like today where we feel like we're making progress and we can do something to make those waiting lists shorter."

Payne said it will take 18 months to two years for people to be able to move into new affordable housing. First, there will be requests for proposals for about eight to nine housing projects. Then, there'll be municipal approvals and financing raised before the housing is built.

The Maine Affordable Housing Coalition advocated for the bonds alongside AARP Maine, the Maine Council on Aging and the Associated General Contractors of Maine, among other groups. From this experience, Payne said he learned there could be better ways to finance affordable housing - ways that don't require a vote every year, such as bonds.

"A better approach might be to work towards the creation of a regular, ongoing, predictable state resource that would leverage federal funds to create new housing in Maine," he said. "So, we are proposing a state affordable-housing tax credit."

The coalition has filed a bill in the Legislature to create the affordable-housing tax credit. It would leverage federal low-income housing tax credits, and lessen the tax burdens for developers of affordable housing. The bill proposes state tax credits of up to $20 million per year for four years. According to Payne, the main challenge it could face is that, as with any tax credit, it reduces state revenue.

More information is online at maine.gov.

Laura Rosbrow-Telem, Public News Service - ME