As the state continues to wrestle with the need for more affordable housing, a review of data from MaineHousing shows Portland leading the state in creating new affordable housing units over the past five years, with communities in the greater Portland and Lewiston areas close behind.

The data shows that Portland from 2017 to 2021 created 248 new units of affordable housing with MaineHousing funding, followed by Westbrook with 167 units, Scarborough with 117 units, Auburn with 110 units and Lewiston with 103 units. 

The data does not reflect projects built without financial assistance from MaineHousing, such as projects backed by smaller nonprofits and community land trusts, but the organization’s spokesman said that MaineHousing is involved with more than half the new affordable housing built in Maine. The exact amount MaineHousing distributes to affordable housing projects  per year is difficult to pinpoint, he said, since financing is spread throughout multiple projects, many of which will take more than one year to complete.

“If we define affordable as a rent restricted unit, (a rent that is pegged to a percent of the local area median income and not more than 30% of a tenant’s income) then by and large the vast majority of new affordable units created in Maine are done so with MaineHousing financing,” MaineHousing’s Scott Thistle said.

Both MaineHousing and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development define any property as “affordable” if it doesn’t cost its residents more than 30% of their gross monthly income for housing costs, including utilities. Both MaineHousing and developers of affordable housing statewide, such as Avesta Housing, have said in the past that they actually produce low-income housing subsidized by the federal government, which is popularly described as “affordable housing.”

MaineHousing estimates a current shortage of as many as 25,000 affordable units statewide, and has set a goal of 1,000 new affordable units per year. In 2021, Thistle said, MaineHousing financed completed projects that produced 520 units statewide.

Mary Davis, Portland’s interim director of housing and economic development, said that Portland, along with other communities such as Bangor, Lewiston, Auburn and Biddeford, are classified as HUD-entitlement communities and receive funding directly from the federal government to help finance development of affordable housing. 

“It’s something that really for the last 20-plus years, the city has been focused on,” she said.

In Westbrook, Mayor Michael Foley said new housing projects are expected to produce up to 3,000 new housing units citywide over the next five years, and of those, as much as 30% will be affordable housing. 

“Our pipeline is very deep,” he said.

Right now, Foley said, there are 120 new units of affordable housing expected in two projects, one on Lincoln Street and the other on Stroudwater Street, across the street from Westbrook High School.

One area that Westbrook has been focusing on in recent years is senior housing, Foley said. 

Current Census data shows about 30% of city residents are age 55 or older. Creating affordable senior housing, he said, provides an alternative to aging residents who don’t want to live in a large home, a common need among seniors statewide.

“We view (affordable senior housing) as an opportunity for people to remain in the community,” he said.

Thistle said that going forward, new affordable housing will be difficult to construct without financial assistance from MaineHousing or the federal government because the  higher cost of construction materials will put traditional developers too far into debt to afford low-rent buildings. Davis said developers in Portland will continue to work to create more affordable options, but it’s an ongoing race to keep up with the city’s housing needs.

“There’s always demand, and the resources are so limited,” she said.

Number of new affordable housing units created over the past five years (2017-2021). Data does not represent projects constructed without assistance of MaineHousing, or projects currently in development.












South Portland











Source: MaineHousing