Safe, decent and affordable housing is a basic need that everyone should be able to access. The proposed farmworker housing project in Milbridge is a small, yet important step toward achieving this goal at the local level.
The need for housing is well known and has been highlighted in several recent studies. The Washington Hancock Community Agency’s 2008 Needs Assessment reported that affordable rental housing was in demand throughout Washington County, including the town of Milbridge. According to the 2008 Washington County Rental Housing Facts report published by the Maine State Housing Authority, 71 percent of Milbridge households are unable to afford the cost of a basic two-bedroom rental without using more than 30 percent of their gross income.
Despite the economic downturn, local agricultural enterprises and a growing number of small farming operations expect a growing need for laborers. The difficulty in finding workers to fill open positions has even been cited by a recent study of the Downeast Business Alliance, as a barrier to business expansion by farmers. Offering affordable housing options to families who choose to make some of their annual income from working on a lobster boat, on the barrens, or in the clam flats may help keep these workers in the area to support our resource-based economy.
Given the demonstrated need for affordable housing coupled with a growing demand for workers in the agriculture and aquaculture industries, it would be a shame to pass up the opportunity to offer affordable housing to six local families, allowing them a safe and sanitary place to raise their children while they contribute to our economy as workers and community members.
The proposed six-unit apartment building would be open to permanent residents or U.S. citizens who earn a substantial portion ($4,680) of their annual income from agriculture or aquaculture work and fall into moderate-income limits. For a family of four their adjusted income would need to be $41,600 or under.
The moratorium that this project faces stems from fear, misunderstanding, and, yes, discrimination. I urge the residents of Milbridge and the surrounding towns to consider the facts and the many benefits of a project like this. Let’s support the great American and Down East tradition of helping one another by giving six families the opportunity for a better life.
On June 16, the residents of Milbridge face a choice: they can stop a project that will bring safe and decent affordable housing to the area or they can vote down the moratorium to allow the town’s Planning Board to continue their thorough review of the project — and continue our reputation of being a welcoming community.
Anais Tomezsko is executive director of Mano en Mano.