Dani Laliberte, left, a PATH outreach case worker at the Opportunity Alliance, and Mary Cook, the Emergency Rental Assistance program director, near their office on Friday. The agency is still serving hundreds of households in the Portland area, even as it had to lay off 36 of its staff members. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

The looming end to the federal Emergency Rental Assistance program has left thousands of Mainers in dire need of housing assistance in a tight rental market as winter sets in. And the agencies that have administered the program also are losing ERA-funded jobs, leaving people with even fewer resources to find help.

The absence is apparent at the Comfort Inn & Suites in Scarborough, where The Opportunity Alliance in September had assigned two full-time social workers to address the town’s concerns about increased emergency calls to the hotel. Then MaineHousing paused the temporary rental assistance program on Sept. 29 because it was running out of funding sooner than expected.

The alliance, one of several community action agencies in Maine that administered the ERA program, responded by laying off 36 of 53 staff members who were assigned to the program, which included seven housing stability resource managers, said Mary Cook, the agency’s ERA program director. It kept seven staffers to wind down the program and transferred 10 to other programs within the agency.

The jobs, like the program, always were meant to be temporary. But the need remains very much present.

Dani Laliberte is one of the two social workers removed from the Comfort Inn. She has been reassigned to an outreach program assisting homeless people who live outdoors, but Laliberte still finds herself back at the Route 1 hotel a few times each week, helping some of the more than 80 former clients get to medical and dental appointments or access other services.

Many are children or over age 60. Some are disabled or have dementia. None has the $6,000 needed to pay the first and last months’ rent and security deposit on a typical apartment in the Portland area.


“I’m still helping many of them,” Laliberte said Friday. “I think people are really overwhelmed and confused. Many of them didn’t have an end game for when ERA funding ran out. Sometimes you’re not thinking about that when you just need a roof over your head.”

At the same time, the number of households at the 69-room hotel that are receiving ERA funding through December is dwindling, Cook said, down from about 60 in September to 44 now, including 60 adults and 16 children.

An additional 10 rooms are occupied by former ERA recipients who remain at the hotel while they go through the eviction process or look for alternative housing, she said.

And while some ERA recipients living in hotels have received support from social workers, many former ERA recipients, including those living in apartments and other rentals, now are seeking assistance through cash-strapped municipal General Assistance programs.

“We knew the Emergency Rental Assistance Program wasn’t forever, but we’re not seeing a decrease in the need,” Cook said. “Ideally, we would have had a smoother process. It has generated a lot of fear and discomfort in the community. We worry what will happen to these folks come January.”



The Opportunity Alliance was able to preserve ERA funding for about 800 renter households through November, Cook said, but the program’s end leaves about 2,000 people without secure funding for housing heading into 2023.

The alliance has 168 households receiving ERA funding that remain in hotels throughout Cumberland County, including 40 households in South Portland hotels and 20 households in Freeport hotels, Cook said. They include 229 adults and 77 children.

After MaineHousing paused the ERA program, the alliance had to drop 634 pending applications for new or continued rental assistance across the county, Cook said, putting 1,083 adults and 388 children at risk of becoming homeless.

Mary Cook, the Emergency Rental Assistance program director at The Opportunity Alliance in Portland. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

“We had to assess what we could really pay for and pull back a little,” Cook said. “Now, people are starting to get mad at their caseworkers because they aren’t able to make housing materialize.”

Scarborough officials are enforcing a staggered plan that requires all emergency shelter guests to leave the Comfort Inn by Jan. 1 so the hotel can return to normal operations allowed under its operating license. Requests for interviews with the town manager and the hotel’s manager or owner went unanswered this week.

Many ERA recipients, most of whom live in apartments or other rental properties, had already reached their 12-month funding maximum and were no longer eligible for assistance when the program was paused at the end of September, said MaineHousing spokesman Scott Thistle.


“A fair number of ERA households were reaching their program caps,” Thistle said. “So even if the funding had not expired, they would have maxed out and no longer be eligible for rental assistance under the ERA program.”

The program started in March 2021 as a temporary measure to help people struggling to pay rent or utility costs because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, MaineHousing has provided $286 million in ERA funding to 32,659 households, with the largest share – $77.7 million – going to Cumberland County residents. The Opportunity Alliance provided funding to 10,531 households.

MaineHousing is still waiting for U.S. Treasury officials to determine how much is left of the state’s ERA allocation. Thistle said state officials think there will be enough to pay back about $2 million in state funding that has been transferred to keep ERA households in hotels through December.

The end of ERA funding is resulting in layoffs at many of the community action agencies that managed the program for MaineHousing.

“We definitely did staff up for this program,” said Megan Hannan, executive director of the Maine Community Action Partnership, which represents nine agencies across the state.



Hannan acknowledged the absence of transitional assistance for people who may need continued support after the ERA program ends.

“That is an unknown at this point,” she said. “These resources are gone or close to gone. This was always meant to be a short-term program.”

Hannan said many had hoped the ERA funding would last longer, but demand was greater than expected in a tight housing market with rapidly rising rents. Various state and local efforts to increase housing development will take time, so they offer little hope to Mainers facing homelessness now.

“The demand remains and the solutions are not immediate,” Hannan said.

Cook and others remain hopeful that state officials will come up with enough money to keep former ERA recipients housed through the coldest months ahead.

“Many signed or extended leases at a significantly increased rental rate, in an increasingly difficult housing market, hoping to be able to have ERA help cover costs for them,” Cook said. “We have had hundreds of calls since closing the applications from people who still need assistance.”

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