Bath councilors have given preliminary approval to a new rule drafted to increase the number of homes available.

According to Bath Housing Director Deborah Keller, Bath has 2,640 single or two-family residences that would be eligible to add a housing unit as a result of this new rule. If only 5% of those eligible households took advantage of the allowance, it would add 132 new homes to the city.

“Bath Housing has a vision that this area is vibrant, resilient and inclusive, and that everyone who works here, grew up here, wants to stay here or wants to come here has a reasonable opportunity to live here,” Keller said. “This new ordinance is an example of local policy that supports this vision.”

As well as providing more housing for those looking to move to Bath, Keller said the increase in housing could have ripple effects that would benefit the region’s labor shortage.

“We’ve seen rent prices rise over the past five years in the 70% range – and clearly wages haven’t kept pace with housing costs,” Keller said. “The housing shortage across the region – covering Bath, Brunswick, Topsham, Freeport and surrounding towns – has impacted our ability to build and maintain a strong workforce. There is no silver bullet, but we need more housing and we need to work on this problem from different angles.

The new rule will allow residents to create and rent a residential unit on the same property as their single or two-family home. The dwelling unit can either be attached to the original house, exist within the footprint of the original house, or be independent of the house on the same lot.

For example, a resident could rent an unoccupied apartment instead of a garage. Or, if one family occupies the entirety of a two-family house, that property could become a two-family house. In any case, city planner Ben Averill said the living unit must have its own kitchen, bathroom and living space and cannot exceed two bedrooms.

The additional living unit must also be rented for at least 90 days and include at least one parking space.

Councilors will vote to give final approval to the rule on March 2.

This story will be updated.

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