Houlton council considers recommendations to tackle housing crisis

4 months ago

HOULTON, Maine – In an effort to comply with new state housing ordinance and density regulations, the Southern Aroostook Development Corporation Housing Committee recommended six housing-related initiatives to the Houlton Town Council on Monday night.

During the meeting, SADC Executive Director Johanna Johnston said that the committee’s extensive research, consultation with developers, and town and state officials led to the comprehensive recommendations designed to streamline town planning and new housing construction. The recommendations include revising zoning, offering more affordable housing options, adding a tax increment financing district for housing development and tackling blight in Houlton. 

Johnston referred to the 2022 Maine law LD 2003 that was enacted in an effort to create solutions to the housing crisis by increasing housing density and updating town ordinances to match what the new legislation requires. 

A plan for additional town housing does not have to be a bunch of tiny homes popping up everywhere, according to Johnston. And the committee recommends a plan for the town’s additional dwelling units that meets the state ordinance requirements and satisfies some of the fears planners and residents have about adding housing units to the town. 

“We recommend developing a standard pre-approved plan that will decrease a lot of the planning time and decrease up front costs that might be a barrier to homeowners,” she said. 

Regarding zoning and land use, the committee recommends the town revise policies that identify more areas for mixed use development. Additionally, the committee recommends the planning board members attend training and workshops offered by Maine Municipal Association.

“There are so many new laws enacted and the planning board faces new resident situations that we believe even those that have selflessly served for many years would benefit from learning how other communities are handling these topics,” Johnston said. .

As far as infrastructure and utilities go, tax increment financing districts serve as a powerful tool for municipalities to foster development and the committee is recommending that Houlton consider a TIF district for housing development. 

TIF rules have been expanding to include affordable housing development, Johnston said.

“If it wasn’t for a TIF available in 2009, the Market Square Apartments might not have been developed,” she said. 

SADC has a TIF committee that has been meeting for well over a year to review the town’s current TIF districts. They are evaluating their effectiveness and developing recommendations that most likely will include the ability to move funds from the town’s designated fund account for projects, she said. 

Houlton Police Chief Tim DeLuca, who is also serving as the interim town manager, has recommended that landlords be licensed businesses within the town. 

DeLuca was not at Monday night’s meeting, but Johnston said that they will hold an information session for landlords. 

We want to show how licensing has been implemented in other towns and what communities experienced as a result, she said. 

Blight is a problem in town and Johnston said the committee recommends working with the faith community to help residents unable to make repairs on their homes. 

There is currently a faith community committee working with the town for eclipse planning and Johnston said that this group could change their goals after the eclipse to include reaching out to help paint and clean-up for those who can’t. 

“This is not an overnight solution, we don’t have the quick fix but it’s going to be an ongoing thing,” Johnston said. “We are going to host a housing summit in March to bring together policy makers and keep the conversation open to come up with other solutions.”

Town Council Chairman Chris Robinson asked Johnston for a summary of the recommendations to help the council as they consider the recommendations.