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Greater Portland Council of Governments announces fundraising effort to create housing for asylum seekers

GPCOG hopes to raise $1.5 million as part of a plan to create 200 transitional housing to use to shelter asylum seekers currently staying in hotels.

PORTLAND, Maine — According to the Greater Portland Council of Governments, there are currently about 400 families seeking asylum in Maine that are being housed at hotels across southern Maine. 

Now, GPCOG has announced a plan in hopes of creating new housing to support those arriving in Maine.

"Intentionally developed, permanent transitional housing will provide new arrivals in our communities with a safe and stable landing place," Belinda Ray, GPCOG Director of Strategic Partnerships, said. "It will also make much more efficient and effective use of limited taxpayers' dollars." 

On Thursday, GPCOG announced its Safe in Maine fund, which will raise money to create 200 transitional housing that will provide asylum seekers with temporary housing that would be more affordable than costly hotel rooms.

Officials with GPCOG are hoping to raise more than $1.5 million through grants, private donations, and municipal funding for the project and use that money to supplement public and private dollars to create the housing.

The agency has been exploring housing solutions for asylum seekers, including new construction, quick-build modular units, and renovations of existing buildings. Ray says that it has not been decided where the transitional housing will be built, but that there are currently six locations in southern Maine being considered. 

"We want this to be something that will be solidly and comprehensively established so it can serve us for decades," Ray said. 

Ray says she hopes in the future this transitional housing can be used to allow new workers to relocate to the state for jobs while they seek permanent housing or to provide temporary accommodations for seasonal workers or people with H1-B visas.

According to GPCOG, it costs roughly $12,000 per month to house and provide meals for an asylum-seeking family in a hotel. Right now, that is paid for by the federal government, but FEMA funding for this could expire in October. Leaders are hopeful this housing solution can provide relief to municipalities that are using large portions of their budgets to support asylum seekers. 

"This is a fantastic opportunity for the community at large to step in and say, we will help solve this problem," Portland Mayor Kate Snyder said. 

"The creation of transitional housing to assist asylum seekers is a systemic and structural change that we have been advocating for that will allow Maine to fully ethically welcome and embrace them," Mufalo Chitam, executive director of the Maine Immigrants Rights Coalition, said. "Today, asylum seekers in hotels can feel heard."

Leaders with GPCOG hope for the transitional housing to be completed in the next two years. Ray says they plan to work with a local developer on the project, but the developer has not been chosen yet. 

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