Midcoast braces for end of federal rental assistance program

Midcoast braces for end of federal rental assistance program

Midcoast city leaders and nonprofits are hoping general aid programs will support residents left out in the cold The federal emergency rental assistance program is endingWhile Augusta lawmakers race to pass emergency legislation to support struggling Mainers.

“This is probably the No. 1 issue that’s in my inbox,” Sen. Mattie Daughtry told the Brunswick Town Council on Monday evening. “We’re starting to hear some pretty dire stories.”

What is the Emergency Rental Assistance Program?

Enacted by Congress in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Emergency Rent Assistance Program provided funds to states to assist residents struggling with the burden of rent, utilities and other housing costs.

Since the program got off the ground through 2021, MainHousing has approved more than $292 million in aid, according to the Housing Authority’s website, with most of the money covering the rent checks of qualifying Mainers.

Deb Crocker, the city’s human services administrator, said that more than 300 Brunswick families have benefited from the ERA, with 77 still on the program as of the end of November.

According to City Manager Mark Meyers, about 80 Bath families have used the program.

As Maine’s ERA fund has been reduced, fewer residents have been able to receive rental assistance. MainHousing stopped accepting new applicants on Sept. 29, and the program is set to officially end at the end of 2022.

What could the end of the ERA mean for Mid Coast residents?

The emergency rental assistance program is ending at a time when rising energy costs and housing shortages have increased the number of residents seeking assistance, according to housing experts.

Tedford Housing, which currently has a waiting list of 140 families one place in six family units of shelterLast year returned more than 700 people in need of emergency housing, according to executive director Rota Knott. While the area’s limited housing supply is the biggest factor driving residents to shelters, Knott said high heating costs and the end of the ERA have already contributed to the problem of housing insecurity.

“We are fully expecting to see a significant increase in calls due to this situation,” she said. “Shelters across the state are wondering what’s in store when the plan ends, because we can’t accommodate that need.”

Deb Keller, executive director of Bath Housing, said pandemic-relief programs like the ERA are building on a long-running housing crisis that has seen local rents rise 70% over the past seven years.

Now, after two years of hyperinflation, residents are losing an important safety net and find the situation more dire than ever. While some will be able to find the money to avoid eviction, they may have to sacrifice other needs to do so, which will put a strain on other welfare programs.

“People were able to access the rent relief, and that helped them a little bit financially,” Keller said. “They could cover their medical costs; They can cover the increase in transportation costs; They could cover the increase in the cost of food. Rent is no longer being paid. Does this mean they are going to be evicted? Probably not, but now they can’t pay for their transportation. They can’t pay for their food.

What help is on the way?

On Wednesday, Maine legislators Augusta meets to hold public hearing on LD 3Which would provide $473 million in heating assistance, short-term housing assistance and $450 checks directly to eligible taxpayers.

While the bill won’t expand the ERA, it could help put money in the pockets of those who need it most, Daughtry told the Brunswick Town Council on Monday.

“Our hope is, by better funding these programs, we hope to be able to take some of the pressure off not only individuals with severe financial need, but also municipalities like Brunswick trying to be able to provide that assistance.” doing,” she said.

The bill would need to be approved by both houses of the Legislature, which returns in session on January 4, with a two-thirds majority to take effect immediately as an emergency law. If that happens, aid will reach the Midcoast at the end of the month, according to Daughtry. If it passes with less than a two-thirds majority, it won’t go into effect until the summer, long after the need for heating assistance ends.

While Augusta works on its package, Midcoast towns are left to hope that their general assistance programs will protect residents at risk of eviction.

According to Crocker, only 20% of the 77 Brunswick households currently dependent on the ERA are at serious risk of eviction. They believe those families should be able to qualify for general aid, which would provide the relief they need, at least during their first month on the program when aid restrictions loosen.

But if aid doesn’t come from the Legislature this winter, Brunswick’s Office of General Assistance, which is funded 30% through local taxes, could find itself short on both money and manpower to meet the growing demand. Yes, said Town Manager John Aldridge.

“We are expecting other pressures on GA – significant pressures – over the next few months,” he said. “We’ve got our work cut out for us.”

While Knott and other housing advocates support local and statewide efforts to provide emergency assistance to renters and homeowners, they agree that the state can’t really solve the current crisis without solving it. Prioritizing efforts to construct new housing units,

“There’s a lot of talk about putting people back in hotels and other short-term solutions,” Knott said. “Unless … we do something with permanent housing, they’re just Band-Aids on a wound.”

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