Maine Housing Urged to Create More Affordable Housing in Maine

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Peggy Kolesar Urges Maine Housing to Create More Affordable Housing in Maine:
“This is an opportunity to do something important for low income people.”

When we answer the phones here at Maine Equal Justice, access to food, health care, and affordable housing are the most common concerns we hear from people in both urban and rural communities.  In particular, there is growing activity around the state to address the lack of affordable, safe and stable housing.  Maine Equal Justice is seeking to support existing efforts and expand access to affordable housing for people with low income in Maine.  At the state level, Maine State Housing convened its first public hearing on June 7th where it received public comments on how Maine might make best use of $3 million in National Housing Trust Funds.  The National Housing Trust Fund is a new federal program that provides funding for affordable housing for extremely low-income households.

Peggy Kolesar of West Gardiner recently shared her story in order to illustrate the connection between policy and funding decisions.  Here are some of Peggy’s reflections:

I am concerned for my children who are now young adults.  I am concerned for children of others, too many families living in cars.  I am concerned for single women my age, not earning the same as we did in our younger years.  I am concerned for people like myself at risk of homelessness, low income people who are working but struggling to get by.”

Like many Mainers, Peggy’s security was precarious, and an illness was the first event that set off a chain reaction that resulted in a loss of her housing.

“I got sick and landed in the hospital, I lost my job, I got behind on rent and I was evicted. Part of what made me sick was my housing itself – it was full of mold which really aggravated my asthma. It wasn’t safe housing either – there were electrical problems too.  The court gave me 7 days to leave.  I put everything into storage and I started looking for places that appeared to be abandoned, open fields, anywhere I could set up a tent somewhere.”

Maine’s current housing situation poses complex challenges for people with low income.  It isn’t easy to find a place that is safe, affordable, and close to jobs and services.

“Now I’m working in Jay and living in Gardiner.  It’s an hour drive one way.  I’m spending $300 a month on gas to get back and forth.  I get paid $9.50 an hour.”

For people without savings and poor or no credit, it’s hard to find someone to rent to you, if you can find an available place.

“I didn’t have the money to pay first and last month’s rent plus a security deposit for a new place.  After renting for 16 years from an uncle, I didn’t have a record of all those years I paid rent on time every month.  I didn’t have the references I knew I needed these days.  I didn’t have the money to pay the utility hook up.  First time I got an apartment, it was a handshake and it was mine.  Now some places request application fees.  There are so many factors. It’s so expensive to move and that’s why I was stuck in unhealthy and unsafe housing in the first place.”

Without safe and affordable housing, every aspect of people’s lives is impacted.

“I found another place I was allowed to stay but there was no running water and no sewer.  We stayed there a month.  I lost 50 lbs in that month – I’m diabetic and I couldn’t keep my insulin cold so I stopped taking it. Not surprisingly, I ended up in the hospital.”

Peggy’s request of decision makers is a simple one: remember the people most affected by these decisions.

“I am here to tell you there isn’t enough housing that’s affordable, especially for people like me.  I am better off than a lot of people who end up homeless.  My kids are grown.  I’m really lucky for that.  People who are at risk of homelessness, low-wage workers, people who are just getting by, we need you to think of us when you make a decision about this money.  We need these funds to be used to make housing actually affordable for people.  This is an opportunity to do something important for low income people.  Right now it’s like we aren’t expected to live as human beings.  I don’t need much.  I don’t need to be a millionaire. But I do need a safe place to live.”

Maine Housing is currently putting together a plan, informed by community input, for the use of National Housing Trust Fund dollars.  We plan to share the proposed plan with you when it becomes available and encourage you to weigh in on the plan at a July 28th public hearing in Augusta.

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