Delayed bonds to create 212 housing units for seniors

January 6, 2020 GMT

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — MaineHousing has awarded contracts for senior housing that were held up for years because former Republican Gov. Paul LePage declined to sign off, representing the last delayed LePage-era bonds to be converted to action, officials said Monday.

All told, $14.5 million from the voter-approved bond, along with other funding, will generate $45.8 million to build 212 new affordable housing units for Mainers age 55 and older, MaineHousing said.

“These awards are another welcome step forward for older Mainers,” Democratic Gov. Janet Mills said in a statement.

Maine is home to the nation’s oldest average population, and voters approved the $15 million housing bond package in 2015. But LePage refused to release the bonds to protect Maine’s fiscal health. He argued that releasing the bonds would enrich a few individuals, although he did not provide any proof. Mills signed off when she took office a year ago.

The seven projects that will be funded are in Scarborough, Ellsworth, Belfast, Hartland and Farmington.

The $15 million senior housing bond was approved by more than two-thirds of voters in a statewide referendum. Mills already released $500,000 allocated for home repair and weatherization services.

Affordable housing advocates and developers estimate that Maine faces a shortage of 9,000 affordable homes for seniors.

“Older Mainers need quality, accessible homes they can afford,” said MaineHousing Director Daniel Brennan. “The need is substantial. We’re hitting the ground running in the new year and are looking forward to putting these funds to work.”

Over the years, the fiscally conservative LePage took a hard line on bonds because he didn’t like long-term borrowing, even when bonds were approved by state voters.

In summer 2018, LePage stalled the sale of a $117 million bond package in a dispute with the Legislature over state borrowing and a package of new spending bills before ultimately releasing the money.

There are a few other bonds approved late in LePage’s second term that have not yet been sold, but those are not being held up by ideological differences, the state treasure’s office said.