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Gimme Shelter: Housing in the Time of COVID-19

Juliana Dubovsky (Regional Planning Fellow) gives insight into affordable housing in Maine and her service with the Metro Regional Coalition.


As I prepared to write this blog post, the Maine Legislature’s committee on Labor and Housing was hearing testimony in support of LD 609, “To Establish a Commission to Increase Housing Opportunities in Maine by Studying Zoning and Land Use Restrictions.” The Commission created by this bill could help Maine confront its housing shortage crisis and learn from other states how to dismantle the barriers to building housing that meets a range of people, needs and incomes. All of the public speakers showed strong support for the bill.


I know that seems dry, but I find it thrilling, a thrilling Monday morning. Better than a cup of coffee! The fact that Maine, a fiercely home-rule state, is moving towards statewide coordination on affordable housing is exciting. The flexibility or intractability of zoning codes and land use regulations have direct repercussions on the housing choices available to families and individuals. I’ve learned through my work with the Metro Regional Coalition (MRC) that Maine has been struggling with the lack of affordable housing for decades. In December of 1987, Governor McKernan issued an Executive Order to create a statewide Task Force on Affordable Housing. In 1999, legislators and housing advocates pointed out that certain populations were still being left out of the housing market, with a “shortage of options for middle and low-income families” (Michell, King, Hatch and Hardy, 1999). Two decades later and not much has changed in Maine. These regional and statewide housing challenges are not happening in a bubble though; add national issues like demographic change, climate change, and the COVID-19 pandemic to the housing shortage equation. On top of these external forces in Maine, housing is also a deeply personal and chronic communal issue.


My family and I moved here in November of 2019 from Jackson Heights, NYC. Though we were both born and raised in NY, we needed a change and were looking for new job opportunities. I also needed the cold. The heat has adversely affected me since I was a kid, but the turning point came when my steel-toed construction boots repeatedly melted into the sweltering asphalt streets and I got heat stroke multiple times while working in the field. After both of us searching and applying, a great job opportunity in Maine was offered to my husband and we went for it. We planned to take our time learning about the regional housing market while renting in a walkable neighborhood downtown.


Then COVID hit and we watched as the previously predictable trends in housing morphed into a frenzy. Bids were going way above asking, homes were gone in less than a week, and neighborhoods quickly became unaffordable. New friends and neighbors were also looking to buy homes. Our collective common experience was that our buying power was extending further and further out of Portland. Sadly, we knew that we were as much part of the problem as being stuck in it.


On top of that, jobs were now even more scarce than before, more competitive, and more complicated due to childcare. Once daycare re-opened, I found local volunteer opportunities and became an Enumerator with the 2020 US Census, but my passion was to return to the planning field. Fortunately, I learned of the Resilience Corps program at GPCOG – the perfect way to use my planning experience and give back to the community. I also enrolled in the Roux Institute’s graduate program in Project Management, hoping that certification in an uncertain job market will help after COVID.


I am thrilled to be serving as a Regional Planning Fellow and working with GPCOG staff to help plan and prepare for meeting the near and future needs of the region. As a fellow, that includes research for Transit Tomorrow, a regional strategic transportation plan, supporting the Metro Regional Coalition on their housing choice goals, and helping to prepare the next Metropolitan Transportation Plan, the federally mandated long-range regional transportation plan. As the Portland Press Herald’s Editorial Board aptly put it in their March 28th op-ed on Transit Tomorrow, “We may not be able to stop the forces that are transforming Maine, but we can make sure that we are ready to meet them.” I’m honored to be part of that endeavor with the Resilience Corps.


References:


Editorial Board. (2021, March 28). “Our view: Transit plan lays out route for Maine’s Future.” The Portland Press Herald. Retrieved March 30, 2021, from https://www.pressherald.com/2021/03/28/our-view-transit-plan-lays-out-route-for-maines-future/


Mitchell, Elizabeth H., Dennis P. King, James B. Hatch, and Jay Hardy. (199). "Ten Years of Affordable Housing Policy: Is Maine Making Progress-- A Symposium. Maine Policy Review 8.1. 24 -32, https://digitalcommons.library.umaine.edu/mpr/vol8/iss1/4.



About Juliana Dubovsky


Juliana is thrilled to join GPCOG as a Resilience Corps member for the next year. Since she first learned about regional planning at Smith College, she has been dedicated to serving communities with technical skills, strategic thinking, collaborative training and a genuine desire to implement equitable and environmentally sustainable improvements in communities. She went to Pratt Institute for her master's in City and Regional Planning, and she has participated in training programs in grassroots organizing, leadership development and urban design. She hails from Queens, New York, and made Portland her new home in 2019 along with her husband, young daughter, two dogs, a fish and an abundance of houseplants. The majority of her civic and professional work centers around Smart Growth, transportation planning, park and open space stewardship, and sustainability initiatives in neighborhoods, cities, and regions. Upon first moving to Maine, she jumped into learning about her new home state, and she immediately started following GPCOG’s work throughout the region. She worked as a 2020 US Census Bureau enumerator into the fall. Eager to help more, she joined the AmeriCorps.




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