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Maine emergency rental assistance program awaits possible funding to reopen applications

The agency said it distributed more than $275 million in emergency rental assistance before pausing new applications on Friday.

MAINE, USA — MaineHousing expects to learn by the end of the week if any additional federal funding will be distributed to allow the agency to continue its Emergency Rental Assistance Program.

"If we receive additional funding from [the] Treasury, this program is still going to be a temporary program. We're going to be able to hopefully stretch it out for a few more weeks, maybe a few more months, but until we know what our bottom line is and what we've got going out, and what the possible amount is that we'll get from [the] Treasury, we're not really going to put a stop date on the program," Scott Thistle, MaineHousing communications director, said. 

MaineHousing announced on Friday that it is pausing its emergency rental assistance program and will not be accepting new or renewed applications due to depleted funds.

The program started in March of 2021 and was designed as a way to help people pay for rent and utilities during the pandemic, and was federally funded through COVID-19 relief laws. 

According to Thistle, MaineHousing distributed more than $275 million helping support more than 33,000 Maine households to afford rent and utilities during the pandemic. 

Thistle said those funds were anticipated to last through December, however "the outflow of costs of the program" increased recently due to rising costs of rent, hotel rooms, and an increase in applicants as winter approached.

He added that more than 11,000 applications are currently pending, and the pause will allow MaineHousing and Maine's community action agencies time to process the requests.

"This was a one-time program that was going to end at some point. It doesn't have an ongoing source of funding, and it was meant to help get households through the most difficult part of the pandemic. And we feel like, with strong support from community action agencies in Maine, we've helped thousands and thousands of households," Thistle said. 

The pause of the program is causing concern for some housing advocates, however. 

"As we can see, there is [a] great need for rental assistance here in Maine," Victoria Morales, executive director of the Quality Housing Coalition, and a democratic state representative from South Portland, said. 

"Housing is integral to our economy, and that when we have 33 thousand households that tomorrow, may not be able to pay their rent, we are in a very vulnerable place when it comes to the Maine economy," Morales added. 

Morales said she sponsored a bill that would create a state-run emergency rental assistance program. She added that the bill was supported in both the house and senate, however, was not funded in the most recent budget.

Morales, who is not seeking re-election, said she will continue to push for greater resources for those facing housing instability in the state.

It is still unclear when or if MaineHousing will begin accepting new applications to the program. 

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