Disheartening is the word that comes to mind watching a group of Rockport neighbors fight against an affordable housing project on the sole basis of prejudice against the poor.

That is what happened Wednesday, Oct. 12 at the Zoning Board of Appeals meeting in the opera house as neighbors from Sea Light Lane presented their case for overturning the Planning Board’s approval of the Hope for the Future housing project.

They oppose this project because it involves the Knox County Homeless Coalition. Their appeal states, “One does not need to be an expert in homelessness to know that it is a problem frequently associated with drug and alcohol dependency, crime, and, in some cases, violence, among other problems.”

This seems like a lazy and dismissive statement considering in the next breath, they are holding the Planning Board up for scrutiny based on minute details in the land use ordinance. They do not have to provide any evidence supporting their concern that future residents of this housing project, whomever they may be, will have drug problems or commit crimes, but they want to make sure Rockport officials dot all of their i’s and cross all of their t’s.

The fact that this is affordable housing and not a homeless shelter or similar facility is lost in the discussion. At what point does a person living in affordable housing lose the stigma of homelessness? Is there a real reason to fear a family finding themselves with a nice apartment and some services to keep from ending up back out on the street?

The problem goes beyond Rockport. In Rockland we have seen affordable housing projects opposed based on everything from the needs of insects to water drainage concerns. In Thomaston, residents try to keep a straight face while arguing the 15 acres of former prison campus should remain nothing more than a field the town pays to mow each year.

There is no point in asking NIMBYs to change their ways. “Not in my backyard” has become a staple of the local culture.

This highlights the need for a new solution, one that comes from the Legislature or perhaps the feds. Take the recent battles over cell towers, for example. The neighbor opponents did not get to have their say here. For better or worse, they ran headlong into a brick wall called the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

When a methadone clinic wanted to open in Warren, the town found itself fighting the Americans with Disabilities Act.

If we have no choice on cell towers, perhaps the time is coming when we have no choice on affordable housing, at least within reason. Housing is a real crisis and responsible legislation could be crafted to make it harder to fight these projects. The injury posed by the project should reach a higher threshold than the neighbors do not like it and were able to exploit some loophole in the local land use ordinance.

The housing crisis cannot be solved by talking about it. We call on local lawmakers to take action on this problem.

Remember, election letters are due by Oct. 21

The drop-dead final deadline for any letters to the editor about this election is 3 p.m., Friday, Oct. 21. Letters can be emailed to editor@villagesoup.com. Please include your first and last name and town of residence.