Maine becomes newest battleground in the Left’s assault on the suburbs
Throughout the country, radical politicians are waging war on the American Dream by attempting to eliminate a staple of American life – the single-family home in a safe residential neighborhood in the suburbs. Already, far-left governments in places like California, Oregon, and Minneapolis have banned single-family zoning, setting the stage for the transformation of formerly single-family neighborhoods into high-density urban areas, which is likely to wreck property values of current homeowners while enriching property developers. Now, the anti-suburb zealots have set their sights on Maine, threatening both local control over zoning decisions and the new construction of in-demand single-family homes in one of the nation’s most beautiful states.
The effort in Maine is being led by Democrat House Speaker Ryan Fecteau, along with members of Democrat Governor Janet Mills’s office and their “non-profit” housing developer allies. In June of last year, Governor Mills used emergency legislative powers to fast-track the creation of a commission to “increase housing opportunities in Maine by studying zoning and land-use restrictions.” The commission met several times last year and recently released its final report detailing the commission’s official recommendations for legislative action in the upcoming legislative session this month.
The recommendations forwarded by the commission are openly anti-suburban and straight from the Obama-Biden playbook that is now being followed in liberal states and cities around the country. The commission even highlighted housing and zoning policies from California, Connecticut, Oregon, Massachusetts, and Minneapolis in their discussions, making clear that they hope to turn Maine into a similar style of socialist dystopia.
While the commission talked endlessly about “affordable housing” and “racial equity,” implementation of the commission’s recommendations would deal a direct and fatal blow to single-family home neighborhoods and local control of zoning laws in Maine. It would not just open the door further to multi-unit developments, which most Maine residents do not want, but also actively force acceptance of these projects in all suburbs and small towns across the state.
For example, the commission’s recommendations include the abolition of local control over housing project decisions, with the creation of a “state-level housing appeals board” to “review denials of affordable housing projects made at the local level.”
The report also details a “density bonus,” which would throw out current rules restricting population density in certain areas. Also discussed by the commission was the idea of “relaxing height restrictions” in order to allow taller housing complexes, something the city of Portland is already doing. But the commission is clearly interested in statewide mandates on such policy, which would usurp local decision making, something Maine’s left-wing media is already advocating.
The commission also suggests creating a “state financial reward” for local municipalities, bodies which are prone to bend the knee immediately to the woke housing scheme. In other words, Democrats in the Maine state government are hoping to bribe local leaders into embracing their radical agenda against the wishes of their constituents.
Despite the stated purpose for the commission being primarily about housing availability, the final report issued by the commission was especially focused on “racial equity” after using a portion of their first meeting to hear a presentation on “the racial history and impact of the law and policies that resulted in zoning laws.” That was followed by a lengthy presentation in the third meeting titled “history on racism and discrimination in Maine,” which was presented by the communications director for a major labor union in Maine.
Why any of this means that current Mainers cannot be allowed to live in neighborhoods with single-family homes is far from clear.
The makeup of the commission has also raised some eyebrows, as critics have pointed out that it is stacked with Democrats, including Democrat Congresswoman Chellie Pingree’s daughter Hannah Pingree. Jeff Levine, another commission member, has worked in urban development in Portland, Maine, and in Massachusetts, where he focused on “equity planning.” Levine appeared to drive many of the commission recommendations, based on the letter he submitted to his fellow participants at the very first meeting.
Another member of the commission, Anthony Jackson, works for the “Peace and Justice Center of Eastern Maine” which, when not rallying for “abortion justice” or “supporting Palestine,” also dabbles in housing policy. At their “housing justice, Maine retreat” planning meeting in October, the center listed “harass politicians” as a strategy. Jackson was appointed to the commission thanks to the requirement that the commission include a representative from an “organization promoting civil rights that has racial justice or racial equity as its primary mission.” That requirement includes no provision that said representative has any knowledge of housing policy.
Even more problematically, other members of the commission also appear to stand to gain financially from the elimination of single-family zoning in Maine. Commission members with their fingers in the “affordable housing” pie included Dana Totman, president and CEO of Avesta Housing, and Erin Cooperrider, former executive for Community Housing of Maine, which is now a developer for multi-unit housing projects across the state.
Avesta housing (which came under investigation in recent years for massive failures in Section 8 housing standards) and Community Housing of Maine together hold hundreds of millions of dollars in low-income housing assets and are huge recipients of tax credits for housing projects. Governor Mills recently signed into law additional state tax credits for low-income housing projects, just before the commission was established – which means a potentially giant payday for Totman and Cooperrider if the recommendations they helped write are implemented.
Whether the commission’s recommendations are an offshoot of the far-left’s efforts to turn American suburbs and small towns into urban living centers, a radical effort to achieve so-called “racial equity,” a get-richer-quick scheme for “affordable housing” developers, or all the above, one thing is very clear: the battle for the suburbs has come to Maine.
However, if these recommendations gain traction or even become law in Maine, Janet Mills and her Democrat allies may face a reckoning with voters over their anti-suburbs stance. Such voter backlash appears to have played a role in Democrat Terry McAuliffe’s loss in the Virginia governor’s race, where one particularly damaging ad highlighted McAuliffe’s far-left position on housing policy. The suburbs of Virginia, which were key to President Biden’s 10-point victory there in 2020, swung dramatically against McAuliffe just a year later.
Maine families who have built strong and safe local neighborhoods and have created retirement nest eggs with their homes won’t stand by while their neighborhoods are turned into Portland, Oregon, Minneapolis, or San Francisco, despite the efforts of radical-minded politicians.
Sam Adolphsen is the former chief operating officer at the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. He currently serves as the policy director at the Foundation for Government Accountability and lives in Maine.