Testimony to Oppose LD 1673
Testimony in Opposition to LD 1673, “An Act To Create a Comprehensive Permit Process for the Construction of Affordable Housing”
Senator Daughtry, Representative Sylvester, and the distinguished members of the Committee on Labor and Housing, my name is Nick Murray, I am a resident of Cornish, and I serve as policy analyst for Maine Policy Institute, a nonpartisan, non-profit organization that advocates for individual liberty and economic freedom in Maine. Thank you for the opportunity to testify on LD 1673.
We are in agreement with the sponsors in regards to our state’s widespread, persistent problem of limited housing. Speaker Fecteau and many others in this legislature have rightly pointed to housing as a must-solve issue for this session. We could not agree more, but establishing the sort of strict structure on municipalities that LD 1673 offers would be an unreasonable overreach.
Our problems start with a lack of supply, and that is precisely why this bill is not the answer. It would impose a heavy-handed, top-down scheme, set up to overrule municipal governance in favor of only some kinds of housing. Despite good intentions, the result would be an overall slower rate of growth in the housing stock, no doubt making the issue much worse.
This bill is a blunt instrument to fix a predominantly local problem. While the principle of local control is not absolute, the question becomes: where are its most appropriate bounds?
By leveraging a new “comprehensive permit” process, this bill would enable the Maine Housing Authority to clear the runway for only certain developers’ projects by overruling local-level processes if that municipality has not met the arbitrary standards of meeting or pursuing its “affordable housing” criteria. We believe this bill reaches well beyond convention and sets a nonsensical double-standard on local control.
Previous legislatures have chosen not to advance limits on municipal control when it came to matters of protecting private property rights, such as prohibiting local rental registries and preventing short-term rentals. But today, this committee is hearing a bill that would allow a state board to override entire municipal processes so that certain developers get their projects done anyway.
This scheme would be more accurately described as cronyism or crony capitalism.
According to LD 1673, in order to be in “good standing,” and thus not subject to the “comprehensive permit” override, municipalities must meet their “fair housing goal” set by the state. If affordable housing is under 1.5% of a city or town’s “total land area zoned for residential, commercial or industrial use,” this bill outlines three relatively arbitrary thresholds based on overall number of households.
Suppose in a town with 500 households, only 25 (5%) are considered affordable, before this becomes law. The municipality is already below their “fair housing goal” so a developer looking to build 50 units would alone need to account for the 13% threshold in the bill, since the project would bump the number of households over 500. That developer would then be required to dedicate nearly all of their 50-unit proposal as “affordable housing,” so the town would have 72 (13%) of the 550 total and be able to avoid state-level meddling. Can we really say that this proposal would move forward under this environment?
This new scheme could act as a perverse incentive for town planners as well as developers. For the towns currently at their “fair housing goal,” they end up squashing all types of development just to stay within that goal and avoid unneeded scrutiny from Maine Housing.
To get real housing reform, we need localities to voluntarily open up their regulations on density, set backs, Accessory Dwelling Units, etc. Many of these were rightly identified in the recent zoning and housing commission’s report. Rather than sharpening the state’s array of sticks, lawmakers should consider carrots to attract municipal reform and private investment.
In sum, it is not worth instituting policy that would ultimately stifle the overall market for housing. We need supply, which means we need more options. This bill would limit the options available to developers, localities, and ultimately Maine people as well.
Stacking the deck in favor of one certain type of option unnecessarily limits those who invest their time, money, and sweat into building housing projects, the folks we need to work with in order to solve this problem. To promote more housing options for present and future Mainers, please deem LD 1673 “Ought Not to Pass.” Thank you for your time and consideration.