The Southern Midcoast Housing Coalition is sponsoring a forum at the Curtis Library on May 31, 6-8 p.m., to address affordable housing needs in Brunswick and explore new ideas and opportunities for providing affordable housing.

There have been many new market-priced or “luxury” apartment projects recently approved or nearing completion in Brunswick, but no significant new developments for the lower half of the rental market – yet. However, the affordable housing shortage, widely understood and discussed for years, finally seems to be receiving the attention and commitments needed to make a difference.

Over the past two years, the Maine Legislature has allocated more than $100 million from various state and federal sources to the Maine State Housing Authority. A recent report by the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition identified that Maine needs at least 20,000 additional rental units to meet the needs of households currently homeless or paying an unsustainable share of their income for housing.

Not all cities in Maine are equally prepared to take advantage of these new opportunities. Recent history suggests that Brunswick may have greater housing needs than many cities, but may be less likely to succeed in winning such development under current conditions.

Brunswick’s Comprehensive Plan Update Committee has identified the need for affordable housing as one of its priorities and a number of preliminary ideas for attracting such development, but its report will be presented in at least a year and half and will require additional time and effort to implement.

One way to overcome one of the barriers to affordable housing would be for the city council to create a “land bank” through which the city could identify and secure suitable land that could be made available to developers at a price subsidized enough to facilitate development. of social housing.

With some starting capital, the land bank could act quickly when a suitable piece of land for affordable housing becomes available to purchase or option the property. The “bank” could by RFP invite landowners and developers to propose plots or specific development projects. The “bank” could choose land and development proposals that offer the best combination of affordability and the best price.

There are many talented Brunswick residents with experience in housing development who could help initiate a land bank project, review proposals and bolster city staff strained by current postings and shortages. of staff. The proposed “land reserve” could contract administrative assistance as needed.

There are several potential sources of capital that could be sought to launch the Brunswick Land Bank. The Maine State Housing Authority’s Community Solutions Grant program invites municipalities to apply for up to $500,000 in funds to address affordable housing needs. Cumberland County is administering a first round of applications for a total of $57 million in U.S. bailout funds and may open another round later this spring. Other municipal land banks in Maine and across the country have received land or funds from foreclosures, repurposing of existing municipal properties, and private charitable donations.

Brunswick has done an admirable job over the past 20 years in identifying and protecting conservation land through the private efforts of the Brunswick Topsham Land Trust and appropriations from the City Council. Land for affordable housing may require similar commitments of time, expertise and money.

The forum at the Curtis Library on May 31 will be moderated by Deputy State Senate Majority Leader Mattie Daughtry, who will also briefly outline the variety of initiatives the Legislature has supported for affordable housing.

Lois Skillings, President of Mid Coast-Parkview Health, will provide insight into the effects of the housing shortage on both public health and the struggles of large employers to recruit essential staff. Dana Totman, President of Avesta Housing, will speak from the experience of a large nonprofit developer of what cities can do to make it easier (or harder) to attract affordable housing. John Hodge, Executive Director of the Brunswick Topsham Housing Authority, will speak both to the severe housing shortages recently experienced in the Brunswick area and to specific ways (including a “land bank”) the city could meet these housing needs. creative way.

The forum gives attendees the chance to learn more about how to create more affordable housing in Brunswick and the many ways we can all come up with practical solutions to these challenges.

Christopher St John is a retired Brunswick resident, a neighbor of The Gathering Place, the Midcoast Hunger Prevention Program and Tedford Housing, and a member of the Southern Midcoast Housing Collaborative. Giving Voice is a weekly collaboration between four local nonprofit service agencies to share information and stories about their work in the community.