ROCKLAND, Maine — City councilors agree the lack of affordable housing is a top concern here and will take priority in 2020 as officials look for ways to combat rising home costs and rental prices which are already out of reach for many on the midcoast.
In 2018, 59 percent of households in Rockland were unable to afford the median home price of $168,000, according to the Maine Housing Authority. There are no current rental properties listed below $1,000 a month in Rockland, according to Zillow.
“Housing is huge. I know that you as a city council don’t have a magic-bullet solution for it. But I think addressing it where you can makes a difference,” one Rockland resident told the council at a planning session Monday night aimed at setting goals for the new year.
City Councilor Nate Davis said he would be in favor of offering some kind of financial relief for residents who are being priced out of their homes, although the council did not offer any concrete strategies for tackling the problem.
In addition to pricing out current residents, Councilor Valli Geiger said having a small and unaffordable housing stock also limits business growth.
“Part of the problem with bringing jobs here is that there is no housing. We have people commuting over an hour [to work here.] The Coast Guard [members] no longer live here because there is no housing. We’ve had several large businesses decide not to do expansions because there is no housing,” Geiger said. “Nothing is in a silo.”
Earlier this year, the City Council backpedaled on an ordinance that would have allowed for the subdivision of lots in some areas. Other changes were aimed at increasing the opportunities for affordable housing to be developed, but councilors repealed the ordinance after facing public backlash.
Fostering development along the main entrances to the city — particularly along Park and Camden streets — is high on councilors’ to-do list.
Park Street consists of a number of small businesses and homes, while Camden Street features several big-box stores and shopping plazas that have struggled as competition from online retailers increases. Both corridors have seen far less development than downtown in recent years.
Tillson Avenue is also a priority for development. While not an entrance to the city, it is located just off Main Street and is home to the city’s wastewater treatment facility, Rockland’s U.S. Coast Guard base and the municipal fish pier. Climate change could play a role in the future development of that area, Geiger said, since the road is at sea level.
“If we can actually present a vision for development along those corridors, I think we will have a much better chance at attracting developers who would want to participate in that, rather than if we just sort of let it go as is,” Davis said.
Other more concrete ideas proposed by city councilors include a potential ban on pesticides as well as determining the fate of the city-owned Engine Quarry which is located next to the dump on Old County Road.