State housing commission to begin work

Posted Aug. 23, 2011, at 8:50 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A commission of legislators and public representatives tasked with studying Maine’s affordable housing stock and developing a plan to address short and long-term concerns is beginning to take shape.

Assistant House Majority Leader Andre Cushing of Hampden was named Tuesday as House chair of the 16-member panel that formed out of legislation passed during the recent session.

LD 841, which Cushing sponsored, creates the Blue Ribbon Commission on Affordable Housing to review current policies on affordable housing and make recommendations for changes that meet the needs of Mainers.

The commission is expected to meet for the first time next month and must submit its report to the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee by Jan. 17.

“We will be putting considerable work into this project, because the situation demands it,” Cushing said this week. “The fact that this legislation passed as an emergency measure conveys the sense of urgency that will color the commission’s work.”

A recent study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology identified 86,000 low-income Maine households, including 34,000 elderly households, as facing housing affordability problems. Many pay more than half of their income towards housing costs. Cushing said that simply is not sustainable.

“The responsibilities of the commission run wide and deep,” said Cushing, who is a realtor and home builder. “There is a lot of work to do between now and January, but we will have the able assistance of experts in the various related fields as we proceed. Our goal is to try to make a real difference.”

Joining Cushing on the commission will be one more member of the House of Representatives, to be appointed by Speaker Robert Nutting of Oakland and two members of the Maine Senate, to be appointed by President Kevin Raye of Perry.

Those members had not been announced as of Tuesday but, based on the legislation, preference will be given to members of the committee that has jurisdiction.

The remaining members of the affordable housing commission include representatives from statewide groups with a stake in affordable housing such as MaineHousing and the Department of Economic and Community Development.

In addition, Speaker Nutting and President Raye will appoint one representative to represent the following areas of expertise: senior housing, conservation planning, real estate, affordable housing development, construction, and homelessness, among others.

Some of those members have been appointed, but the full list was not available Tuesday.

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