2017-11-15 / Business

Housing stability benefits all of us

Special to The Times Record

GINA LEDUC-KUNTZ GINA LEDUC-KUNTZ Thanksgiving is fast approaching, shifting our collective mindset away from property buying and selling complexities to creating welcoming homes and celebrating holiday feasts. Whether we are homeowners or renters, enjoying housing stability is a true blessing. What about those in our community who may not be so fortunate; our neighbors, friends and strangers facing housing insecurity and crisis? It is both easy to forget people facing housing insecurity and easy to explain away their plight; the homeless are lazy or those facing an impending foreclosure or eviction are irresponsible. Many of us think this way.

Even worse, maybe we do not even think about housing insecurity or about our homeless neighbors at all. “Not my problem, not on my radar,” is often the approach. It is easy to become overwhelmed by the ins-and-outs surrounding housing insecurity and homelessness; it is a complex problem, demanding complex answers.

Even the statics are confusing, seeming only to support the basic wisdom advanced by Leo Tolstoy: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Both the statistics and sage advice show there is no one path leading to homelessness and no one path leading out.

First, who are the homeless anyway, what do the numbers show?

According to Maine State House Authority’s 2017 Point in Time Survey, Maine’s overall homeless population is a diverse group of individuals. The size of Maine’s homeless population has remained relatively static over time, yet sees increases and decreases in the numbers amongst subgroups within the overall homeless population.

In Maine, a 5-10 percent decrease in the homeless veteran population occurred from 2016 to 2017. Although headway has been made in addressing homelessness amongst Maine veterans, homelessness amongst Maine public school-aged youth has increased from 2,070 to 2,192 since 2013; this is concerning.

Children who are homeless or experiencing housing insecurity are at high risk for other negative outcomes, including food insecurity, ill health, poor school performance and higher school dropout rates.

The lack in housing affordability works to destabilize the more at risk families in our community. Housing affordability is generally defined as spending no more than 30 percent of a household’s income on housing. Once a household reaches and surpasses this 30 percent income expenditure threshold, housing insecurity will begin to emerge.

How at risk are Midcoast Maine residents overall for housing instability? Every year, Maine State Housing Authority publishes its Housing Affordability Index for each Maine county.

Cumberland County’s median home sale price is $256,000. A median income of $73,365 is needed to support Cumberland County’s median home sale price, yet the median income in Cumberland Country is only $59,748. This shortfall between income needed and income actually obtained leaves 60.3 percent of Cumberland County residents unable to afford the median priced home.

Even more dire, 57.4 percent of Cumberland County renters are unable to afford the cost for the median priced, two-bedroom Cumberland County rental.

In Sagadahoc County, the home affordability picture is only slightly better than Cumberland County, with 50.3 percent of Sagadahoc’s residents unable to afford the median priced home at $190,000 and 54 percent of residents unable to afford the median priced two-bedroom apartment.

In Lincoln County, 47 percent of residents cannot afford the median priced home, while 48.3 percent cannot afford the median priced two-bedroom apartment.

Index values over 1.00 indicate housing affordability, while indexes under 1.00 indicate unaffordability. In our geographic region, only Lincoln County has an index indicating housing affordability with an index of 1.04.

Cumberland County’s housing affordability index is dismal, coming in at 0.81, making it Maine’s least affordable region to live. Sagadagoc County’s affordability index is 0.94; not entirely affordable either.

This lack in affordable housing creates community imbalance and instability. As housing affordability decreases, community members begin to make less than desirable lifestyle choices — like, only working but not living in the community; attempting to live in the community while risking housing insecurity or moving out of the community altogether. Moving from a community creates a vacuum, leaving the community with a smaller workforce and less youth — all negative outcomes.

What can we do to address housing affordability? Act on the local level. Many factors driving lack of affordable housing in our region are outcomes to larger policies issues; policy is difficult and time consuming to change.

Instead, take action by doing something simple like connecting with neighbors and staying connected.

Sarah Lundin, community service coordinator for Freeport Community Services, explains the vitalness found in neighborhood connectedness, saying neighbors who know one another can react and respond more quickly to a crisis.

“People love Freeport Community Services because they can come here and connect with others in the community,” said Lundin. “Sometimes, a conversation here is the only conversation some people have the opportunity to have.”

During the holiday season, nonprofit organizations see a marked increase in both food and other donations; these donations are vital, yet sometimes we all forget both housing and food insecurity can be fought more directly, simply by watching out for our neighbors.

“Our real life connections are not all on Facebook,” said Lundin. “Getting out to check on your neighbor during the holidays, making a pie for the older man down the street, having a friendly conversation with the neighbor’s kid or just sending a random card, all these things are simple and build community security.

“And the best part of all, making connections is free.”



GINA LEDUC-KUNTZ is a local Realtor who grew up in Topsham and whose family owned and operated LeDuc Realty as a mainstay in Topsham for nearly 40 years. She now lives in Freeport with her very large and rambunctious family. Her two eldest sons are Maine lobstermen off Chebeague Island, her eldest daughter is studying early childhood education, her two young children attend St. John’s Catholic School in Brunswick and her preteen son attends the Coastal Academy in Harpswell.

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