Seniors descend on Augusta, demand Gov. LePage release housing bond funds

Seniors descend on Augusta, demand Gov. LePage release housing bond funds

Older Mainers from across the state, and their supporters of all ages, gathered in Augusta yesterday to demand Governor Paul LePage immediately release affordable housing bond funds earmarked for Maine seniors. Despite passage of the housing bond referendum last November with 69% of the vote, the funds have yet to be released and older, vulnerable Mainers, many of whom have been kept in limbo for years, continue to wait for homes they can afford.

“A few years ago, my building changed hands and the rent increased to an amount I could no longer afford,” said Rena Heath of Hallowell, speaking at a State House press conference. “I was lucky as I didn’t have to wait very long for an affordable option to become available. This isn’t the case for the 9,000 older Mainers on a waiting list for a home just like mine. It is unacceptable for them to be forced to wait any longer.”

Nearly 9,000 older Mainers are currently waiting for affordable housing options in their communities. Some are being told it will be at least five years before they will have access to housing. Without action, the shortfall will grow to more than 15,000 seniors by 2022.

“Mainers should not have to wait one day longer for affordable housing options that will help them age in place,” said Lori Parham, AARP Maine State Director. “High housing costs force millions of low-income older adults to sacrifice spending on other necessities including food, undermining their health and well-being.  On behalf of our 230,000 members in the state, AARP Maine calls upon Governor LePage to release the Housing Bond funds immediately.”

Shortly after the media event, Democratic Speaker of the House Mark Eves introduced a joint order on the House floor to allow a bill to require Gov. LePage to honor the will of voters and release the bonds. It passed by a vote of 80 to 63.

“Maine voters have spoken – they want our seniors to have the chance to age independently in their communities,” said Speaker Eves. “Instead of releasing the bonds and honoring the will of his constituents, Governor LePage has chosen to hold them hostage. Today Maine lawmakers came together to honor our promise to Maine’s seniors and compel the release of these vital bonds without further delay.”

Eves noted that a recent, nationwide study by the Carsey School of Public Policy found that 40 percent of Maine’s seniors are low-income or living in poverty, a percentage higher than our neighboring states of New Hampshire and Vermont.

In addition to providing affordable, safe homes for some of Maine’s most vulnerable residents, the housing bond is expected to create work in the construction trades throughout the state and increased revenue from property taxes generated by the new units.

Eves’ proposal will now head to the Maine Senate for consideration, where it faces an uncertain future in the Republican-controlled chamber.

Photo: Volunteer Rena Heath speaks at a State House press conference, via AARP.

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