Almost every area of Maine suffers from a lack of affordable housing. Only two counties, Aroostook and Somerset, have a median income that actually exceeds what is necessary to purchase a median-priced home within the county. In coastal and lakefront communities and on Maine’s islands this challenge is even more acute. According to 2006 MaineHousing data, the median price of a home increased by 55.6% over the past 5 years. On Maine islands, the price has shot up by over 72% over the same period. To afford a median-priced island home in 2006 required an income of about $85,000- almost twice the actual median income in Maine’s island communities. These figures hold true for many coastal counties as well.

This lack of affordable housing creates challenges for the local workforce and for families who struggle to raise their children in the area where they grew up. Many of them are local fishermen or lobsterman for whom access to the water is essential. These people can’t move inland to find affordable housing. And because of the higher median income in these island communities, they are usually disqualified from federal and state government grant programs.

Over 50 bill titles have been submitted in this legislative session in support of affordable housing initiatives. Many of these bills are based on the idea that local communities can best assess their needs and have solid ideas for creating a sustainable base for affordable housing. Formed out of the Maine Islands Coalition Affordable Housing Subcommittee in July 2006, the Coalition for Coastal Workforce Housing (CCWH) is dedicated to working with the legislature and other organizations to help secure affordable housing for Maine’s islands and coastal communities where lack of affordable housing is a significant problem. The steering committee is comprised of representatives of the Island Institute, Genesis Community Loan Fund, Coastal Enterprises, Inc., MaineHousing, Maine Islands Coalition, Monhegan Island Sustainable Community Association, and Islesboro Affordable Property, and has over 75 members.

On Feb. 27, legislators joined leaders from the Coalition for Coastal Workforce Housing at the State House for a press conference to discuss the lack of affordable housing in coastal and island communities and present LD 762, An Act to Enhance a Community’s Capacity to Support Affordable Housing. The House Majority Leader, Rep. Hannah Pingree (D-North Haven), is sponsoring the bill, which would help local communities preserve affordable housing through an optional local real estate transfer tax on expensive homes.

Rep. Pingree, Rep. Theodore Koffman and Rep. John McKane spoke on behalf of the need to address affordable housing, not just along the coast and islands, but throughout Maine.

“If you live on an island, you don’t have the option of moving further inland as the costs rise. You have to leave.” said Pingree. who has seen the cost to purchase a home on islands like North Haven and communities along the coast skyrocket to the point where most Maine families cannot afford them.

Commuting long distances to work is becoming an alarming norm. “Already the traffic is backed up for miles during rush hour on the bridge to Mount Desert Island, packed with commuters who can’t afford to live where they work,” said Koffman (D-Bar Harbor) who signed onto Pingree’s bill as a co-sponsor. “This phenomenon poses a serious threat to our centuries-long island heritage, and needs to be brought under control before there are no Maine people left along the Maine coast.”

Pingree’s bill would enable communities to impose a local-option real estate transfer tax on homes that sell for more than $500,000. The community could apply a transfer tax of 1 percent to the seller at the time of sale, and then distribute the revenue to local nonprofit housing organizations for the purpose of building, buying or developing affordable rental and owner-occupied housing in the municipality for eligible individuals or families.

“While we can’t stop wealthy people from spending top-dollar on an island home, we can leverage those big purchases to help working families,” said Pingree.

The Taxation Committee held a public hearing on LD 762 on March 15. Organizations speaking in favor of the bill included MaineHousing, the Maine Municipal Association, the Disability Rights Center of Maine, several island non-profit affordable housing groups, several island residents, realtors, and members of the CCWH steering committee.

Only one group, the Maine Association of Realtors, spoke against the bill.

John Bernard, summer resident on Cliff Island, stated, “As in other towns up and down the coast, this pattern (inflated home values and lack of affordable housing) threatens the delicate balance between summer people and those who build and repair their houses, maintain their roads, remove their rubbish, and so forth.” q

To learn more about the Coalition for Coastal Workforce Housing or become a member, please contact Chris Wolff at, or 207/594-9209, ext. 102.