Today MaineHousing is announcing it has reached a critical milestone in efforts to help more than 17,400 Maine renters weather the economic challenges wrought by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
MaineHousing, in partnership with ten area community action agencies, has delivered $103.4 million in federal Emergency Rental Assistance stabilizing housing for Maine families.
The funding and payments to landlords have kept the roof over the heads of thousands of children, our elderly neighbors, and others who have lost work or income because of the pandemic.
In all the funding has helped more than 17,000 households, including more than 18,000 children.
The program has also helped pay back rent as well as overdue utility bills for eligible applicants, keeping the heat, lights, and internet on for thousands of Mainers.
Funding for the program is ongoing and will continue to be distributed to those in need well into 2022. Eligible tenants may receive up to 18 months of rent payment or receive financial help paying utility bills if facing a pandemic-related financial hardship. Those facing eviction proceedings are also being encouraged to apply to the ERA program through their local community action agency.
MaineHousing Director Daniel Brennan said the work would not have been possible without the collaborative support of the state’s community action network and dozens of landlords who have worked in concert with the agencies to keep their tenants housed. “There are many organizations and people that make this program work,” Brennan said. “It’s a huge undertaking.”
He also said the need and demand for the program has not subsided as new challenges from COVID-19 persist as we head into the winter months. “We are grateful to our Congressional leaders for providing us the funds to help people in such difficult times,” Brennan said. “Having a place to call home is so vital to our health and well-being.”
“Keeping a roof over peoples’ heads is critical, especially during the pandemic and during the cold winter months,” Maine Gov. Janet Mills said. “I applaud MaineHousing and Community Action Agencies across the state for getting these Federal relief funds out the door, faster than most states nationwide, to keep families in their homes and help landlords pay their mortgages. I encourage anyone who is struggling to pay their rent or their utilities to apply for assistance through MaineHousing.”
Maine was among the first states to get its program, administered by MaineHousing, up and running soon after the federal funds became available in March of 2021, quickly delivering needed help to thousands worried about their financial futures with a streamlined program that allowed the federal aid to move quickly to where it was needed most.
“This funding has been absolutely critical to housing stability in Maine throughout the pandemic,” said Brit Vitalius, the president of the Southern Maine Landlords Association. “By supporting tenants and by extension, landlords, Maine families have been able to stay in their homes and landlords have continued to pay their mortgages and care for their properties.
Megan Hannan, the executive director of the Maine Community Action Network Partnership, said those on the front lines of community action wish the program was not necessary because it highlights the great need for help across the state. But Hannan said they are grateful the funding is available and will remain ongoing at least until September of 2022.
“The Emergency Rental Assistance Program is such an important program and opportunity for people,” Hannan said. “They can come to us to help pay rent and utilities when they do not have the money or when scrounging for funds to pay rent means they don’t have funds to buy other necessities, like food or medicine or daycare so they can go to work, or pay for health insurance costs.”
In all, Maine has access to about $352 million in federal Emergency Rental Assistance funds that are distributed by the U.S. Treasury under a pair of federal laws passed by Congress and signed by Presidents Trump and Biden.
The program remains funded in Maine and is expected to continue until at least September of 2022. Those facing eviction or having difficulties paying their rent or utilities are being encouraged to apply for assistance.
Portions of the funding have also been used to help cover the legal costs for tenants facing eviction with grants for that work going to Pine Tree Legal Assistance and Legal Services for Elderly. Both non-profit entities help those facing eviction negotiate resolutions with landlords to help low to moderate income families remain in their apartments. Their work with tenants, Maine’s court system, and landlords has also helped hundreds of tenants reach agreements with their landlords to avoid eviction while also helping landlords receive payment for owed back rent through the ERA program.
This legal aid has stemmed a flood of evictions in Maine following the end of federal eviction moratorium in 2021.
Based on state court eviction data, eviction filings in Maine courts are 38 percent lower than the pre-pandemic average for the 11-month period from January to November.
Because of the Emergency Rental Assistance program average monthly eviction filings are also lower at 293 per month for 2021, compared to a 10-year monthly average of 430 per month prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and the ERA program.
“Additional funding for legal aid through the Emergency Rental Assistance program has helped Pine Tree Legal Assistance increase the number of tenants we are able to represent in eviction related court or administrative matters,” Maureen Boston, an attorney with PTLA said. “We represented 494 tenants in 2020 compared to 827 in 2021.”
Boston said of the 827 tenants PTLA represented in 2021, they were able to prevent or delay homelessness in 812 cases, a success rate of 98 percent.
“Emergency Rental Assistance payments to landlords and tenants have helped make that possible,” Boston said. “Previously tenants who were struggling to pay rent had very few financial assistance options. ERA has opened the door to come to agreements where landlords get paid and tenants remain housed in a larger number of cases.”
MaineHousing’s other partner organizations including ProsperityME and the Immigrant Resource Center of Maine have also received grants from the program to ensure the help is equitably distributed to the broadest cross-section of Maine families, while overcoming language and cultural barriers that may otherwise constrain access to the federal benefit.
Claude Rwaganje, executive director of ProsperityME, said the ERA program allowed his organization to help more than 700 people including new Mainers and Afghan refugees who are being relocated to Maine.
Rwaganje said more than $2 million has been spent to help keep families in stable housing. ProsperityME employs a multi-cultural staff who speak more than 10 languages and offer cultural appropriate services to new Mainer communities.
“This program is vital, as it invests resources back to the community,” Rwaganje said
ERA Program application information including a list of local contact points for help is available online at mainehousing.org/covidrent. People with application-specific questions can contact their local CAA. Anyone who has general program questions or who would like to request a paper application can call MaineHousing at 1-800-452-4668.
MaineHousing has helped Maine people own, rent, repair, and heat their homes since 1969. MaineHousing is an independent state authority created to address the problems of unsafe, unsuitable, overcrowded, and unaffordable housing. MaineHousing is a $2.1 billion financial institution with a staff of over 190 people. MaineHousing assists more than 90,000 Maine households and invests more than $300 million in the Maine economy annually.