This November, Mainers will have the opportunity to vote on a $15 million bond for the construction of affordable housing for Maine seniors.
You have probably heard by now that Maine is the oldest state in the country, and that we are getting older. More than 15 percent of our population is over the age of 65. By 2030, it is estimated that one in four Mainers will be over the age of 65.
We know that Mainers are fiercely independent people. In a recent AARP poll, four out of five Maine voters aged 50 and older said that it is a top priority for them to be able to stay in their homes as they age. Older adults have lived and worked in their communities for decades, many of them for their entire live. But in a rural state like Maine, transitioning into a retirement home often means leaving behind everything that is familiar to them, including friends and neighbors.
The bond, which was proposed by House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, as part of his “KeepME Home” plan, received strong bipartisan support. It will directly address the desire expressed by many Mainers to “age in place” by helping to winterize existing homes and build new residences in communities that have limited or no affordable options for older Mainers who want to stay close to their hometowns. The new homes will be built with an eye towards easy access to transportation and health care services.
According to a report by the independent national research firm, Abt Associates, Maine has a shortage of nearly 9,000 affordable rental homes for low-income older people, a shortfall projected to grow to more than 15,000 by 2022 as our population continues to age.
Nearly a third of Maine seniors survive on Social Security as their only source of income, and 10 percent live at or below the poverty level. In this time of economic insecurity, Mainers who have worked hard their entire lives find themselves without the resources to age with comfort and dignity after they retire. Ensuring that homes for seniors are affordable is a top priority.
The new buildings funded by the bond will also greatly benefit our infrastructure and our overall economy. Maine has the eighth oldest housing stock in the country. These projects will help bring state-of-the-art facilities to communities throughout the state and spur economic growth by creating hundreds of valuable construction jobs.
Although Windham’s median age is a few points lower than the state median age, meaning that we are on the younger side of the state’s population profile, the age of the population has steadily grown over the last several decades in line with the statewide trend. If we do not address the housing shortage now, the gap is only going to grow larger over time.
The bond heads to the ballot this November. While this bond will not solve the senior housing shortage in one fell swoop, it is a critical step forward.