In early October, MaineHousing announced a pause on accepting new Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) Program applications. They said they were waiting for additional information from the federal government. The federal government launched ERA in March 2021, as part of the government’s COVID-19 relief program, to help those whose income was impacted by the pandemic

At MIRC, we understand MaineHousing’s decision to implement this pause. Future federal funds are uncertain, and Maine still had approximately 11,000 pending requests as of late September. However, we also have serious concerns about both the short-term and long-term implications of the ending of this program, whenever that happens. 

Without ERA, there is a real risk that thousands of people will be forced to live on Maine’s streets this winter. Over the past year, because there was no other housing available, many unhoused people (including but not limited to asylum seekers) have been forced to live in motel rooms. ERA funds have been used to cover the costs of those motel rooms – both for people who were born and raised in Maine, and for those who just arrived. Without ERA funding, people who have used it could lose access to shelter. Then what? Maine’s systems desperately need to be improved in order to prevent a full-blown catastrophe, with people trying to survive outdoors during Maine’s winter. 

Election season is a good time to reach out to elected officials and candidates for office. Please let them know that you are concerned about Maine’s housing crisis. We need more affordable housing, and we need it as soon as possible. The best time to start building would have been years ago; the next best time to start building is now. And ask them – what is their plan to keep people housed if federal funds run out this winter?