Maine Could Be the Third State To End Single-Family-Only Zoning

New laws in California are being adopted by Maine to reduce restrictions on housing construction. Soon, it could face some of the same problems as the Golden State’s reforms.

The Maine House of Representatives approved L.D. last week 2003. This legislation allows for “missing middle” options like duplexes and accessory dwelling units. It also gives the state authority to establish housing production goals and requires that local laws “affirmatively advance” these goals.

It now goes to the Maine Senate.

Bipartisan support has been shown for the measure, which reflects a consensus that housing is becoming more expensive due to zoning rules adopted by local governments. State preemption can be used as a way of decreasing housing costs and to return property rights.

“The lack of affordable housing in Maine has reached a crisis level,” said House Speaker Ryan Fecteau (D–Biddeford), the chief sponsor of L.D. 2003 was the year that the Senate approved the first version of the bill. “This legislation could increase housing options in all communities in Maine.”

The law of supply-and-demand applies to the housing market as well. For a long time, government over-regulation has distorted the housing market,” said state Rep. Amy Arata (R–New Gloucester), who added that the bill “includes a free-market solution to housing shortages and honors property rights.”

L.D. 2003 would become law. If L.D. 2003 becomes law, Maine will be the third state that abolishes single-family-only zonating.

Oregon passed legislation in 2019 that legalized duplexes in all small-town residential areas and up to 4 units in single family-zoned properties in communities with less than 25,000 inhabitants. California also passed similar legislation in 2019 allowing duplexes to be built on nearly all single-family-zoned property.

Maine’s bill would allow municipalities to permit two-unit houses wherever single-family homes are currently allowed. Four-unit homes will be permitted in growth areas. The bill would also guarantee homeowners the right to build accessory dwelling units (ADUs)—sometimes known as granny flats or in-law suites—on their single-family properties.

ADUs with extra parking spaces would not be permitted by the localities, which often renders them unfeasible. The localities could set the maximum size of accessory units and retain the right to establish their own permits for duplexes or ADUs.

Additionally, the bill eases parking restrictions and density restrictions for affordable housing deed restricted in multifamily-zoned communities. They can build these units at 2.5x the density allowed by the multifamily zones, provided that they rent out or sell at market rates. A minimum of one parking spot would be required for every three units.

These are some of the most controversial parts of the bill. L.D. L.D. 2003 gives state officials power to establish statewide housing production targets. These targets would be met by the municipalities, who will have to develop their own regulations. The regulations must also “affirmatively advance” federal Fair Housing Act goals.

Some officials local to the area have stated that such requirements will give cities virtually zero control over density. This would force them into allowing development that exceeds existing infrastructure and services. They would be open to suit based upon the shifting federal fair housing regulations.

Nick Murray from the Maine Policy Institute is a policy analyst and expressed concern about these provisions inviting meddling by Washington.

In March, he said that “the mention of federal policy is worrying” because “it could mean federal Department of Housing and Urban Development would transfer these goals the state. This further separates housing policy and the local communities.”

It is difficult to define “Affirmatively supporting” fair housing. The regulations of the federal government that defines this term have been changing for decades and are now subject to significant revisions by each presidential administration.

This leaves it unclear what local governments would be required to do under this provision. It would be possible to outsource Maine’s decisions on zoning to D.C. bureaucrats, with unlimited discretion or just a bit of code. This would likely require a lot of litigations.

Setting housing production goals by state officials is not an ideal market solution. It is alarming how dependent this provision is on the actions required by localities.

If it is true that more density would require municipalities to permit, then that could mean that there would be fewer restrictions placed on housing construction by local governments. However, private property owners will still decide what goes where.

However, the state’s housing production targets don’t seem to have an excellent track record in terms of actually building housing.

California’s state government maintained the same targets for decades: it projects housing needs in each region and requires local governments plan to build enough housing to satisfy those needs. They have been almost ineffective over most of their history. These requirements have been ignored by local governments, who can offer compliance on a paper basis, and without any penalty.

In order to make local governments comply with planning quotas, animated YIMBY activists started using legal threats and lawsuits in recent years. Housing enforcement officers are being increased by the state. These planning quotas have been given more teeth by lawmakers.

These initiatives are proving successful in getting certain municipalities to seriously consider zoning reform. However, progress is slow and uneventful. If local governments don’t wish to allow more housing, it’s difficult to get them to.

This fact may soon be discovered by Maine officials. L.D. L.D. 2003 allows for a wide range of local governments to subvert the spirit of reforms.

It is now illegal for municipalities to impose density restrictions on homes with two or more units than they do for single-family houses. In order to make room for the additional units, fourplexes and duplexes should be permitted to be bigger.

Although three-unit residences were legalized for single-family lots in Minneapolis, they weren’t allowed to increase the allowable density. Few three-unit dwellings were ever built.

L.D. legalization sections of duplexes and ADU These units can be permitted by local authorities in accordance with the 2003 L.D. This allows local governments to set up long, discretionary approval procedures that deter people from building these units.

California is the perfect example of this. ADUs became legalized by the state in their first piece of legislation, which dates back to 1980. These units were not possible to construct because localities charged high fees or required endless permits. Before ADUs could be built easily by local governments, it took many more bills and decades.

The resistance to the recent state legislation legalizing duplexes is often similar and creative.

Murray from the Maine Policy Institute submitted written testimony to state legislators arguing that there is an inherent problem in forcing local governments allow people to live where they aren’t interested. A better solution would be for the ADU and duplex sections of L.D. to be made voluntary. They should be voluntary in 2003 and offered financial incentives for local governments to adopt them.

It would also avoid all the conflicts between state and municipal governments that has characterized California’s housing politics. It would mean, however that NIMBY communities that do not want to build new housing won’t be required to permit it.

Reform is not easy, no one has said that.