by Peter Morelli, AARP Maine
Maine has an opportunity to take bold action to help address the major challenges of Maine’s rapidly aging population and struggling economy, House Speaker Mark Eves told a recent MEREDA breakfast. Eves detailed the bipartisan “KeepME Home” plan which calls for a $65 million investment bond for the construction of affordable and efficient housing for Maine seniors in all 16 counties in the state.
“We are at the epicenter of the changing demographics in this country,” Eves said. Maine has the oldest population in the country, with a median age of 44 years, added Peter Morelli, who leads AARP Maine’s Age Friendly Community program. AARP Maine has joined a coalition of businesses, housing developers and senior advocates to urge lawmakers and the governor to support the KeepME Home bond.
“The housing bond will be critical to help seniors remain in their communities,” Eves said. The bond will would create more than 1000 energy efficient homes and 2,000 jobs across the state in each and every county. Maine’s housing stock is among the oldest in the country, and it is poorly matched with current needs because it is too unaffordable, too inaccessible, too inefficient and too remote from the services and resources seniors need to thrive in their communities, Eves said.
Morelli described the Age Friendly Community Network approach which AARP Maine is rolling out in cooperation with towns, cities and community groups. The approach supports the development and implementation of strategic action plans for communities which want to address Maine’s aging demographic. Morelli also discussed the economic value of cities and towns starting to plan now. Representing more than 50 percent of Maine’s economy, Baby Boomers have a lot to offer Maine and the state could do more to engage this group.
The age friendly community program is organized around eight aspects of community life relevant to 50+ Mainers. Three involve the built environment: outdoor spaces and buildings, transportation, and housing. And five focus on the social environment: social participation, respect and social inclusion, civic participation and employment, communication and information, and community support and health.
Eves said that most seniors want to live independently as long as possible, but that thousands of Maine seniors are currently on waitlists for affordable housing. As the backlog grows for affordable housing, more and more seniors living on a fixed income are faced with tough choices. Mainers who have worked their whole deserve a secure a retirement in the place where they raised a generation. Yet many have trouble keeping up with rising property taxes, the cost of heating oil and maintaining their homes.
Eves said that the housing bond will be a key to job creation in the construction industry. The over 2000 jobs are diverse, he said, with 776 construction jobs, 368 jobs for the people who provide supplies and services to the industry, and 1,144 jobs created when construction and supplier workers spend their earnings across all sectors of the economy.
MEREDA supports the KeepME Home initiative and encourages its members to do the same. Nearly 80 companies and organizations across the state have already signed on. If you are interested in supporting this initiative, or would like to learn more, please contact Greg Payne at the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The KeepME Home bond will address our economic and aging challenges head on within the construction of housing units for seniors addressing a critical need, while also strengthening the economy, Eves said. He said that getting the program through the Legislature “will be a heavy lift” and thanks MEREDA for supporting the program.