Testimony on the Draft 2018 Action Plan of Maine Housing and Dept of Economic & Community Development

Testimony of Nancy Smith, Executive Director of GrowSmart Maine

With regards to Draft 2018 Action Plan

Maine State Housing Authority and the Department of Economic and Community Development

December 11, 2017

 

Representatives of the Maine State Housing Authority and the Department of Economic and Community Development. My name is Nancy Smith and I am the Executive Director of GrowSmart Maine. As many of you know from our previous interactions with both agencies, GrowSmart Maine is a statewide non-profit membership-based organization working at the intersection of conservation and economic development to grow Maine’s economy, protect its distinctive character, and enhance our state’s quality places.

As a part of our commitment to strengthening Maine’s economy, GrowSmart Maine (GSM) is particularly enthusiastic about well grounded, thoughtful proposals which seek to grow the economy in a sustainable manner while at the same time preserving our state’s unique character and quality of place. Although the Action Plan is primarily concerned with affordable housing issues, we believe that portions of the draft 2018 Action Plan pertain to aspects of GSM’s overall mission and our comments are as follows:

  • GSM notes that the funded activities for 2018 are all broadly compatible with smart growth (SG) objectives:
    • Improve housing quality
    • Expand the the supply of affordable housing
    • Help Maine people attain housing security
    • Improve economic opportunity
    • Improve public infrastructure;
  • Of particular interest to GSM are the SG funding allocations are contained in the CDBG program; $2.7 million for housing rehabilitation and $3.5 million for public infrastructure;
  • GSM also notes that under the section of Annual Goals and Objectives (p.42-44), the following goals are listed which are broadly compatible with SG objectives:
    • Improve the Quality of Existing Housing; funding of $2.7 million for CDBG; and
    • Improve Public Infrastructure; funding of $3.5 million for CDBG;
  • GSM strongly supports the “adaptive re-use of existing housing” as an “eligible activity” which can be considered as supportive of SG objectives and is mentioned under the section of Allocation Priorities for the Housing Trust Fund (administered by MSHA);
  • GSM also endorses the phrase, “the primary goal of the Rental Loan Program is to create and preserve affordable multi-family residential rental housing” The preservation of existing housing as one means of providing affordable housing is a fundamental tenet of downtown revitalization championed by GSM;
  • GSM also lauds the existence of the Lead Hazard Control Program, administered by MSHA, as an effective SG tool to help landlords maintain existing downtown rental units at an affordable price;
  • The Draft Action Plan includes a State of Maine Citizen Participation Plan which states that DECD and MSHA shall solicit information regarding housing and community development needs through a variety of means including consultation with “private agencies”.  GSM should be included in future consultations regarding matters relating to housing and community development needs as they pertain to SG principles and initiatives;
  • GSM notes that allocated funding for CDBG in the Action Plan makes no specific mention of funding for downtown revitalization yet the 2018 Proposed Program Statement for the CDBG included as an appendix, includes a 2018 Program Budget totaling $10,632,000. Of that amount, $300,000 is designated for Downtown Revitalization Grants or approximately 3% of the total.  GSM believes that funds included for the purpose of downtown revitalization should be mentioned prominently as a significant part of the overall strategy, given the value of prosperous, safe downtowns to provide affordable housing for Maine;
  • GSM supports continued funding to the Maine Downtown Center, though it is not specifically noted in the Action Plan.  The MDC provides important resources for local action in redeveloping and strengthening downtowns.
  • GSM also found that the 2018 Action Plan includes a list of 33 different agencies and organizations that were consulted in the process of formulating this plan.  Given its significant role in SG planning efforts across the state, we ask that GSM be included as an organization that is routinely consulted in the formulation of future Action Plans; and
  • Under the section labeled as Community Revitalization Strategies, the Action Plan states that the state will not allow “units of general local government” to carry out community revitalization strategies. Without knowing the particular legal ramifications of this statement, not allowing local government to implement and administer these strategies may represent a lost opportunity to use existing resources more effectively for the purpose of community revitalization which falls under SG objectives.  At the very least, GSM suggests that the aforementioned statement be more fully described as to intent and purpose.

Thank you for the opportunity to present these remarks.

Please feel free to contact me with any questions regarding GrowSmart Maine’s comments on the Draft 2018 Action Plan.