Local Politics

The Struggle to Find Affordable Housing in Southern Maine

Spring Point Residence Hall at SMCC, Photo by Liliana Palmer

Most young adult’s dream is to move out of their parents’ home and into their own. For most, that has begun with renting your first apartment. I first had the desire to do so after my 20th birthday. I had a job and a desire for further independence.

It quickly became apparent to me that it was not as easy as I thought. Friends of mine in the past were able to rent in neighboring towns for cheaper costs, but I was not met with the same luck. After tons of scammers, lack of replies, and adjustment of my expectations, I finally found a decently priced Portland 2-bedroom in December of 2020.

I thought it was over at that point, but I was wrong. My utility bills were much higher than predicted, the end of my lease welcomed a rent increase, and all in all it’s proven to be much harder than I was led to believe. According to RentCafe.com, the average rental in Portland is $1,607, with the average size being 701 square feet. In all of the time I spent scouring various rental sites, I find that hard to believe. Most one bedrooms hover around that price.

The constant anxiety I have regarding my future is paralyzing. I make above minimum wage, have a decent amount saved, and I frequently wonder if I will ever afford to own a home. I do not want to rent forever, and I am already worried about what I will do when my current lease ends and another rent increase follows.

Out of curiosity, I sent a survey out to my fellow SMCC students to hear about what their opinions on their housing situations are. I received 15 responses, with five people living in dorms, five living with parents or another relative, four living in apartments, one respondent stating they “rent a couch to sleep on and have a single shelf in the fridge,” and another saying they rent a house in Rumford.

Respondents were split on their satisfaction with their housing situation. Seven of the respondents stated they were happy, the other eight not as much, with one replying “I have a four hour round trip commute everyday to find affordable housing. My roommate is cool but it makes for a long day.” Three respondents complained of issues within the dorms, with one stating “the dorm itself is fine, but everybody else here makes it insufferable (fighting, partying, music).”

Another respondent living in the dorms was fond of it, stating “I like getting to spend some more time with people of my own age and learn skills of independence.” Those living with parents or other relatives stated they were happy to be saving money.

In terms of how they are managing their finances while living on their one, eight of the respondents said they were working and paying their own rent, two said their parents help with rent, three said financial aid helps with rent, and two said they do not live on their own. One said they have no money and their father is homeless, and one said “I am struggling a lot to stay afloat, the current economic situation makes it very hard.”

According to Zillow, the average home cost in Maine is $348,997, up 21% from just a year ago. I can only assume that the cost will continue to rise, and it will be a long time before my peers and I see a similar increase in wages.

There is some news about our country’s economic woes, stating that the feds might raise interest rates, which is supposed to cut inflation, but you’d have to have a crystal ball to know how that will go. For those students that are struggling consider resources like the Opportunity Alliance to help with low cost housing and paying bills,they have “Programs and services designed to increase income and basic needs by ensuring access to food, safe and stable shelter, utilities, and volunteer opportunities.” 

There’s also federal help from the US Department of Urban Housing, a friend of my professor Rachel Guthrie friend who is a full time student and doesn’t work, only pays $200 a month in rent for his 2-bedroom apartment in Portland (he lives with his wife, who works a minimum wage job and has 2 children). 

A final suggestion, students at SMCC can save money on groceries by visiting the Captain’s Cupboard on campus, a great resource of free food and sundries.

Categories: Local Politics

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