Housing crisis

MEREDA 2022: Maine House speaker calls for action on statewide affordable housing ‘crisis’

Maine needs more housing of all kinds and especially affordable housing, Ryan Fecteau, speaker of the Maine House of Representatives, said Thursday in Portland.

“There is a problem, and we have to fix it,” he said in his keynote address to the Maine Real Estate & Development Association’s annual forecast conference, which was attended by hundreds of people at the Cross Insurance Arena and remote.

Fecteau, D-Biddeford, was elected president in December 2020, becoming the youngest person to hold such a role in the United States and the first openly gay person to serve as Speaker of the Maine House.

He grew up in affordable housing in Saco, raised by a mother who dropped out in ninth grade and worked in a low-income health care job. Fecteau, 29, shared some of his experience with attendees, including photos of the Ledges apartments where he grew up.

If he hadn’t had the opportunity to live there, he said, “I don’t think I would be on that stage today.” Having a home, he said, meant a safe place to do homework and eat with family, for example.

“That’s the difference housing can make,” offering stability and “the opportunity to work through whatever happens in life,” and all the things that inevitably go wrong for families living on the margins, said he declared.

The first member of his family to attend college, Fecteau ran for the Maine State Legislature during his senior year at Catholic University in Washington, DC. He returned home to Maine over the weekend to knock on doors ahead of his election to Maine House in 2014.

Today, Fecteau is a tenant looking for his first home, seeing many listings like the former home of Governor William King, Maine’s first governor, in Bath, currently listed for $825,000 on Realtor.com and $1 million on Zillow. The four-bedroom, 4,758-square-foot home includes its own chapel.

“It’s probably not in the budget of most Mainers,” Fecteau said. “While I wish this was the standard real estate listing…it’s not realistic for a lot of people.”

He also said rental prices are also out of reach for many Mainers, noting that there isn’t a single county where a full-time worker earning minimum wage can afford a typical two-bedroom apartment.

“Maine faces an affordable housing crisis,” he told MEREDA conference attendees, noting that housing supply has not kept up with demand. To meet that, he said, Maine needs about 20,000 affordable homes and a goal of building 1,000 affordable homes a year, especially given the recent spike in fuel prices. real estate.

More voices needed

On the political front in Augusta, Fecteau referenced recommendations from the House Commission to Increase Housing Opportunities in Maine by Studying Zoning and Land Use Restrictions, a group he chairs with the senator. of State Craig Hickman, D-Kennebec.

Among other things, the group recommended eliminating single-family zoning restrictions in all Maine residential areas and creating a state-level appeal board to review denials of affordable housing projects at the local level.

Fecteau said that while he expects tension with communities over a state appeals board, such a body would give developers a second chance to show why a project makes sense for a community. community.

But Fecteau also told attendees that lawmakers cannot solve Maine’s housing problem alone.

“We also need your voices at the table,” he said. “It can’t just be a politician, because nobody likes us anyway. It has to be you… We need you to be part of the conversation about how we solve the problem, because it there are too many people depending on us.”

Thursday’s conference was sponsored by TD Bank, whose Maine President Larry Wold noted when introducing Fecteau that “the overlap between real estate development and politics has grown.”

Wold also credited Fecteau with walking down the aisle to support economic initiatives and critical bond financing.

Later during the event, MEREDA presented Fecteau with its 2022 Public Policy Award. On Friday, MEREDA Board Chairman Joshua Fifield told Mainebiz that Fecteau’s speech demonstrates his understanding and his commitment to the need for more housing in Maine.

“As public health, climate, infrastructure, and labor and wage issues vie for priority recognition by the legislature, President Fecteau has elevated housing to the rank of fundamental principle for health and public safety as well as the long-term economic growth and prosperity of Maine communities,” said Fifield, vice president and senior account manager at Portland-based Clark Insurance. “We appreciate his efforts in this work and hope to continue to be part of the conversations to help solve Maine’s housing crisis.”