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Local organizations continue push to create housing for asylum seekers

The Greater Portland Council of Government is working to raise money as part of a project to build 200 transitional housing units for asylum seekers.

PORTLAND, Maine — The Greater Portland Council of Governments is ramping back up its fundraising efforts as part of a plan to help create new transitional housing units for asylum seekers. 

"We have an opportunity here to resettle families here in our community who will invigorate our workforce and set Maine up for success," Belinda Ray, GPCOG's director of strategic partnerships said. 

GPCOG first announced its 'Safe in Maine' initiative over the summer. Ray said the organization is once again trying to actively fundraise as part of the project. 

According to Ray, GPCOG hopes to raise $2 million as 'gap funding' for the roughly $43 million project.

Ray said that GPCOG has not finalized a possible location for the community of transitional homes. Westbrook and Cape Elizabeth are the two communities that work with GPCOG that have donated to the 'Safe in Maine' campaign. Ray is hopeful more municipalities can join the effort.

Once completed, Ray said the 200 housing units could house between 600 and 1000 people. 

"We're looking at efficient homes which range between 500 and 650 square feet., They have multiple kitchens, living room, bedrooms, kitchen... [and] full bath. That would really allow people to have their space, prepare their meals," Ray said.

Immigration leaders in Maine say the need for additional housing is crucial, particularly as the Emergency Rental Assistance funding is expected to end in  coming months.

"Hundreds and hundreds of people being affected by that," Mufalo Chitam, executive director of the Maine Immigrant's Rights Coalition said. "Emergency rental assistance was able to get people off the street. Literally."

Chitam said around 2000 asylum seekers have arrived in Maine in the last year.

"Every night, there are three, four, five, families that are living in somebody's basement or some church," Chitam said.

Chitam hopes additional projects to provide housing for asylum seekers can move forward.

Ray said if the project continues moving forward and fundraising goals are met, construction could begin in 2024, and folks could move in the following year.

Avesta Housing is also nearing completion of an apartment complex intended for asylum seekers. Rod Harmon, communications manager with Avesta Housing says they're working to open a 52-unit building in South Portland in January.

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