May 15, 2019 at 10:15 am
On Tuesday, May 7, some 300 members of Maine’s real estate industry gathered in Portland for the Maine Real Estate & Development Association’s (MEREDA’s) 2019 Spring Conference on the future of housing in Maine. With housing at a critical juncture in Maine, MEREDA and its members are committed to finding ways to respond to existing challenges and support responsible development for the future.
“MEREDA and its members want to be part of the solution, which is why we put this important conference together,” says Gary Vogel, MEREDA President. Vogel gave introductory remarks at the conference which brought together industry leaders to collaborate and innovate on finding solutions for the housing challenges Maine faces.
The conference included a keynote presentation by Dr. Lynn Fisher of the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. Dr. Fisher provided both national and state economic data, painting a bigger picture of the housing situation. Reflecting on the nearly 10-year economic recovery in our country, Fisher says, “Economic expansion does not die of old age,” but noted it is important to recognize that this is a mature cycle. Fisher’s presentation included a discussion of finding ways to produce more housing at a lower price point and seeking out inventive policies to address the myriad of issues inherent to housing in Maine.
Martin Ditto of Ditto Residential in Washington, D.C. also provided a keynote and spoke about his mission to build cohousing communities as one possible solution to the housing crisis. He urged real estate developers to think beyond merely building houses, but to help create communities where people can connect with one another.
The event also included a panel discussion with local experts Dan Brennan of MaineHousing, Matt O’Malia of GO Logic, and Hannah Pingree the Director of the Governor’s Office of Policy and Management, as well as questions from the audience. Dan Brennan laid out the needs of Maine: “Maine needs 20,000 more affordable homes in the state. Our most recent production has been around 300 units per year. Our goal is to get to 1000.” On building affordable housing he continued, “We know how to do it, we’re just not doing enough of it.”
Looking to the future, Matt O’Malia and Hannah Pingree spoke on the need for more efficient homes. O’Malia, an architect by training, has developed a sustainable insulation product made from wood fiber which will be produced in Maine and provide jobs for Mainers. Making homes more efficient and better insulated is a goal of Governor Mills’ administration, and Pingree spoke about the challenge of keeping people in their homes and able to afford to heat them.
With the advent of tiny homes and 3-D printed homes, the panel acknowledged the need for more innovative approaches to housing. Whether or not people will want these types of homes remains a question, but thinking outside the box on how to produce affordable housing needs to be part of the conversation. As Fisher pointed out earlier in the conference, innovation also needs to be applied to the policy side of things. Having a few brave mayors and town councils try out different zoning policies could have a big impact on how communities can answer the need for housing.
At the end of the day, the conference showed that there are no easy answers to the housing problem in Maine, but getting the right people together in the room to discuss ideas and solutions is where we need to start. “We look forward to continuing this conversation with developers, governmental officials, lenders, brokers and homebuyers to work on turning the ideas from the conference into practice and working on additional solutions to the housing issues faced by Mainers,” said Vogel.