Many Maine communities, particularly those on the coast and island communities, face significant challenges regarding adequate affordable housing for workers and long-time residents. Real estate continues to be bought by wealthy vacationers and retirees, while low- to middle-income homeowners and renters alike are being forced to move due to soaring rents and property taxes. In Portland, Boothbay, Camden and other wealthier communities, people are being displaced as affordable housing is replaced by luxury condos and housing developments. We recognize the importance of bringing more wealth into the state and that many of the vacationers fuel our tourism industry, and at the same time we need to ensure that development does not displace long-time residents or make our communities unaffordable.
Cooperative housing is helping Maine’s urban and rural communities preserve affordable housing. Raise-Op Housing Cooperative (read our profile here) in Lewiston brings together new and long-time residents to secure traditional apartment buildings. In the process, residents are sharing ownership, renovating deteriorating buildings, and developing connections among themselves and with the broader community.
Another model for securing affordable homeownership is the growing number of Resident-Owned Communities (ROCs), where manufactured home park residents form cooperatives and purchase the parks from investor-owners when they are for sale. If these parks were not purchased by the residents they likely would have been bought by investors or developers who tend to raise the lot rent substantially, or worse, can force residents to move or relocate their homes so that the buyer can redevelop the property. In Maine, 368 affordable homes have been preserved by residents taking over ownership in a ROC. These Maine communities are a part of a national movement, ROC USA, which has helped to preserve over 10,000 affordable homes in the past eight years. Residents owning their communities produces desirable results: residents of Maine’s ROCs have taken initiative to improve their communities, starting community programs and gardens and improving their aging infrastructure. (Read our profile here of Wardtown in Freeport and a case study of how ROC USA is taking it to scale.)
Cooperative ownership expands homeownership to more people, helping to stabilize communities by allowing young people, families, workers, and elders stay in our communities. Cooperative housing and ROCs are two models that can provide inspiration for more cooperative housing throughout the state, with benefits beyond the housing sector. For example, cooperatives can collaborate with Maine’s land trusts so that the land is protected for ecological and community purposes. Additionally, the housing cooperative model can be expanded to preserve real estate in commercial districts and on Main Streets, as businesses and nonprofits cooperate to purchase historic and culturally important real estate or residents join together to form investment cooperatives that can purchase buildings or farms. These models have been used recently in Minneapolis with the Northeast Investment Cooperative and in Colorado with Poudre Valley Community Farm, helping to stabilize downtown districts and keep space affordable for legacy businesses, artists, farmers, and community organizations.