If you think your town is running out of housing needs or an apartment building project isn’t right for your neighborhood, consider Jeanie Cannell.

Cinnamon ; her ailing husband, Roger, and daughter Margaret Belanger have money saved up and stable incomes. Yet they can’t find anywhere to live except for a van in a parking lot, with every house available either quickly on the market or way too expensive.

It’s taken decades to get to this point, with so many people competing for so few places to live that many of them are just plain unlucky. During this period, communities have failed to build enough housing – and enough housing of the right type in the right places.

Jeanie Cannell wipes away a tear as she sits inside the van where she lives with her husband and daughter-in-law at the Kennebunk service plaza on Maine’s Turnpike on Wednesday, July 20, 2022. She had just finished a shift at Cabela’s, where she works full-time. The family finds nowhere to live despite their stable income and the money they have saved. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

It took hundreds, if not thousands, of bad decisions to get here. Maine lacks about 20,000 affordable housing units, which puts many people in the same situation as Jeanie Cannell. And that number increases each time a proposal to add housing is rejected, or when local rules favor sprawl and stagnation over smart, sustainable growth.

Jeanie Cannell’s story, told in The Maine Sunday Telegram by writer Gillian Graham and photographer Brianna Soukup, shows why it’s so important that Maine, and everywhere else with the same problem, change course.

Read the full article to see what the housing crisis is doing to people who are doing everything right and still can’t get a break.

Cannell and her family lived last year in an apartment in Biddeford where they felt unsafe, then moved to a winter rental in Old Orchard Beach.

After the winter, even with $1,500 a month to spend, the family couldn’t find an apartment, so they instead bought a 1997 Dodge Ram pickup truck for $2,500. They moved first to a campground in Saco, until summer rates got too high, then to the turnpike rest area parking lot in Kennebunk.

Now Jeanie and Margaret are cleaning up in the rest area bathroom before going to work at Cabela’s. Roger, who worked in construction for 29 years before a fall ended his career, is in constant pain and is aggravated by cramped living quarters. He is also undergoing treatment for bladder cancer.

Meanwhile, Jeanie continues to search for a home. She applied for more than 100 rentals in her price range, traveling all over the state to do so, and often paying a non-refundable $35 per person application fee just to be turned down.

The Cannells are also on a waiting list for a federal housing voucher. But getting it can take years, and even then, that’s no guarantee they’ll find an owner who’ll accept the right one.

All Jeanie Cannell can do in the meantime is tune in and try not to get overwhelmed by the unfairness of it all. Her family has worked hard, but it is not enough for the most basic needs.

The rest of us can do a lot more. We can fight for wages that provide workers with a living. We can call for zoning changes that build on the successes of the last legislative session and encourage housing of all kinds in our communities.

Most importantly, we can support local housing development, rather than always trying to find a reason to reject it.

It will help offset all the bad decisions made in recent years – and give people like Jeanie Cannell a chance to find a place to call home.

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