Comparing Janet Mills and Paul LePage on expanding affordable housing in Maine – WMTW Portland

Mills changes zoning laws, LePage looks to school consolidation
Mills changes zoning laws, LePage looks to school consolidation
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Mills changes zoning laws, LePage looks to school consolidation
One way incumbent Democratic Governor Janet Mills wants to increase Maine’s affordable housing supply is to require municipalities to amend their zoning rules.
Two housing units must now be permitted on any lot previously zoned for a single-family home. In more populous towns and cities, the law allows up to four units.
“This proposes a really good balance between private property rights, the rights of local control, reasonable regulation, and the need to control sprawl and provide affordable housing first and foremost,” Mills said at the April signing ceremony for a law sponsored by Maine House Speaker Ryan Fecteau.
Mills is also relying on another tool, the historical preservation tax credit, which she extended through 2030, for developers who convert existing buildings into affordable housing units.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Paul LePage extended that credit too, when he preceded Mills as governor. He now sees converting vacant school buildings as one way to increase the stock of low-income units.
“Let’s take some of those schools, consolidate them, then turn around and take the buildings that are available retrofit them,” LePage said when he unveiled his education plan in September.
An example of his vision is the former Gilman high school, in Waterville, converted when LePage was mayor, to Gilman Place, 35 apartments in walking distance from downtown.
LePage now sees real estate opportunity in under capacity school districts.
“The high school in Waterville was built for 1,200 students, the high school in Winslow was built for 1,200 students, and today combined have less than 700,” LePage has said.
But as governor, Mills has pointed out, LePage declined to spend a $15 million senior housing bond.
“I’m not sure why it sat on the desk of my predecessor for more than two years. But I have visited the many people living in those 200 new units built with the help of that bond,” Mills said at the first debate, in October.
Those projects include Penobscot Landing, in Belfast, with 25 units for low-income residents 55 and older, resulting from her use of bond money and a new state low income housing tax credit.
Maine cities want the state increase general assistance for homeless people.
Greater Portland this fall was providing emergency housing for 1,700 people, 1,200 of whom were asylum seekers from other countries.
Both Mills and LePage want to make it easier for new arrivals to pay for housing by working legally, sooner than the months-long wait under federal law.
But Portland and South Portland leaders say they can’t wait for more funds to foot the bill for a growing statewide problem.
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