In March, MaineHousing announced that no one should lose their home because of COVID-19 – and we stand firmly behind that statement. COVID-19 has highlighted what we already knew: Housing is critical to our fellow Mainers’ well-being, stability and safety.

The Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University’s recent State of the Nation’s Housing 2020 report further validated what we’ve seen across Maine – that COVID-19 has intensified already significant rental affordability issues. In partnership with the Mills administration and Maine’s Community Action Agencies, MaineHousing launched the COVID-19 Rental Relief Program in April. This program has made a difference to thousands of Mainers. Tenants are grateful because the program is keeping a roof over their heads. Landlords have expressed their gratitude because the income means that they can meet their financial obligations.

Mainers across the state are counting on this program. However, we need more funding to keep it going. Without additional federal funding, our ability to help Maine families cover the rent will grind to a halt on Dec. 31. But if Congress and the president act now, this is a solvable problem.

The Maine Affordable Housing Coalition notes that in the vast majority of eviction cases, tenants are behind on their rent by under two months and owe $1,000 to $1,500 in rent. The average monthly request through our rent relief program is $838. Now, this seems like a lot of money. But compared to the devastation that eviction causes and the funding necessary to help people who become homeless, $1,000 to $1,500 to prevent evictions is a far easier price tag to manage.

For those without a home, we are working with municipalities, health care and service providers, homeless shelters and other state agencies to provide emergency shelter for those who are homeless. Federal funding has been essential for protective equipment, preventative health measures and setting up temporary shelters to achieve social distancing. As a result, 23 shelters across Maine have been able to continue providing shelter.

Hotels are also part of a continuum of measures we use to manage the significant and potentially life threatening public health risks of COVID-19, and without them many people wouldn’t be able to safely quarantine. We’ve contracted with hotels for people who are homeless, group home residents and staff and migrant farm workers. Hotel operations include health screening and testing to quickly identify potential exposures, quarantine and isolation to limit further exposure and health care. As a result, Maine has experienced relatively few outbreaks among the populations served.

This cost burden, however, cannot be shouldered by municipalities and the state. A federal COVID relief package must recognize that these public health safety measures are responses to a national emergency and should be fully funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. To date, hotel rooms and operations have cost approximately $4.7 million – and are worth every penny. These measures have undoubtedly saved lives and protected critical health care resources.

COVID-19 didn’t come with a playbook. It’s hard to know what the coming months will bring, but one thing we do know is that keeping people housed saves lives. Housing is key to fighting a pandemic that necessitates people staying home to stay healthy and prevent further transmission. A home gives kids a place to distance learn. A home protects crucial health care resources. A home gives us a reliable place to land when the outside world isn’t safe.

MaineHousing is committed to do everything we can to make sure that people don’t lose their homes because of this pandemic. But we need help. We need funding. We need Congress and the president to step up and pass federal relief, because Mainers need them to. Tenants, landlords, homeless shelters, municipalities and states can’t bear this burden alone.

We know we’re in this together. Mainers know we’re in this together. Let’s act like it and get help to where it’s needed most.


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