MaineHousing pauses emergency rental assistance program

Fri, 09/30/2022 - 8:45am

    MaineHousing Thursday announced it had paused accepting new applications to the Emergency Rental Assistance Program as the agency awaits word on its request for additional federal funding.

    An unanticipated uptick in demand on the program, coupled with uncertain new revenue prompted MaineHousing's leadership team to make this decision.

    As of 5 p.m., Sept. 29, the program, which was started in March of 2021, is no longer accepting new applications or renewed applications for rent or electric utility assistance. The program, launched as a temporary support, is paid for with federal funds authorized under a pair of COVID-19 relief laws.

    The agency's staff on Thursday notified key entities including the office of Gov. Janet Mills, Legislative leaders and the 10 community action agencies across Maine that have worked tirelessly to help administer this program.

    While MaineHousing initially projected program funds would last at least through December of 2022, this unexpected uptick in program demand over the last several weeks has accelerated the depletion of available funds.

    This uptick also undermined program changes made in June to preserve funding that included reducing eligibility and placing federal price caps on hotel and motel rates paid by the program.

    Pausing new applications now allows MaineHousing and Maine's community action agencies time to process more than 11,000 pending requests to the program. This decision was necessary as a request from MaineHousing for additional funding from the U.S. Treasury remains unresolved.

    Maine was among the first states to open its ERA program under the federal relief laws and since the program's inception it has aided 33,719 unique households and expended more than $275 million. 

    Those who have been helped by the program include more than 25,800 children and 7,893 older Mainers.

    The program largely pays rent directly to an eligible household's landlord has helped prevent evictions while also stabilizing rental housing businesses both small and large across Maine.

    MaineHousing Director Daniel Brennan said the painful decision to pause the program was based on concern demand on the program would exceed available funding.

    Brennan credited MaineHousing's staff and the staffs of Maine's community action agencies with their careful, efficient and effective administration of the program, noting the pause on new applications was not the result of any action or inaction by program staff but the result of a rapidly depleting fund balance with no immediate new revenue on the horizon.

    "This pause in applications is a fiscally responsible and reasonable move that will allow us to ensure all who have already applied to this program get a fair opportunity to receive help," said MaineHousing's Communications Director Scott Thistle. "This temporary program, funded with one-time money from Congress, was meant as an emergency measure to help abate the economic backlash wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic in Maine. It was not intended to be a long-term bandage, a permanent source of rental assistance or a solution to the state's ongoing affordable housing crisis. Simple math tells us that without replenishment this program cannot run indefinitely."

    MaineHousing's decision Thursday to pause accepting new applicants to the program puts the state among dozens of others who have paused or ended their ERA programs including among others New York, California, Florida, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.