A new rent relief program could give thousands of Mainers up to $800 a month to help them avoid eviction as the state’s housing crisis continues.

Legislators on Thursday allocated $18 million in the state’s $430 million supplemental budget to establish a rent relief program for low-income Mainers who risk losing their housing. The pilot program will be designed and administered by MaineHousing. 

Many of the recent housing efforts have focused on the dire need for more housing units, but the Legislature also wanted to help families who have a place to live but are struggling to keep it, said Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, who pushed for the program’s inclusion in the budget. 

The pilot program is designed to provide up to $800 a month in rent relief for up to two years. The money would be paid directly to the person’s landlord.

Gattine estimated that about 2,400 people will qualify. The program is designed to target Mainers most vulnerable for eviction – those making less than 60% of the area median income.

In Portland, that includes an individual making less than $49,749 or $70,980 for a family of four, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. 


Gattine said the $800 amount was intentional given the current high rental rates – it’s enough money to make a “life-changing” difference for many Mainers, he said.

“A $300 or $400 subsidy would be really helpful for somebody, but for people with really low incomes, that would not be enough to keep them housed,” he said.

But for people who don’t qualify for the full amount, $300 or $400 a month could still create some breathing room.

Qualifying renters cannot be using a federal housing voucher to pay rent when they apply, nor can they be living in a subsidized housing unit.

There are still many details for MaineHousing to work out, but a spokesperson for the quasi-state agency said the program will be scaled and aimed at preventing evictions for households with the lowest incomes and at the greatest risk of losing their housing. It will not necessarily be structured in a way that provides $800 in aid for 24 months to every eligible applicant.

Dan Brennan, director of MaineHousing, said in a statement that the agency is working to design a program so that they can hit the ground running when the funds become available, likely in late July.


This one-time funding is going to be deployed to help keep people from losing their housing. It will largely be focused on preventing evictions,” he said. “MaineHousing looks forward to creating an effective program to keep people housed who are at risk.”

An increasing number of Mainers are at risk of losing their housing as the state grapples with an ongoing housing crisis fueled by rising rents and home prices, low and aging housing stock, a growing population and an increase in homelessness.

The pandemic put a brief pause on some housing evictions and brought a flood of federal dollars for emergency rental assistance. But the prohibitions eventually expired and the money has since dried up. Between 2022 and 2023, evictions increased roughly 17% to 5,829, in line with pre-pandemic levels. 

Meanwhile, rent rates only continue to climb. 

 “Fair market” rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the Greater Portland area is $1,946, according to the HUD. Housing search engine Zillow puts the average rental rate in Portland much higher at about $2,600 a month for a two-bedroom unit. 

HUD’s “fair-market” rate, or the rate at which 40% of rental units are below, was $1,387 in 2019.


There are twice as many renter households with extremely low income in Maine as there are housing units affordable at that income, said James Myall, an economic policy analyst at the Maine Center for Economic Policy.

“Rent relief for families with low income is an efficient, cost-effective way to prevent evictions and homelessness, costing half as much as transitional housing and a fourth as much as emergency shelter,” he said in a statement. “In Maine, the waitlist for federal rent support (Section 8 vouchers) is up to seven years long in some parts of the state. Rent relief can reduce homelessness and ease some of the need for municipal General Assistance programs.”

Gattine said Friday that he hopes the pilot program is successful and it can help ease some of the strain of the housing crisis while more affordable units are being built.

A rent relief program was initially a major tenet of a sweeping $76 million housing assistance bill known as the Housing Opportunities for Maine, or HOME, Act. As well as establishing a rental assistance fund, the bill aimed to improve legal protections for renters by prohibiting landlords from discriminating against a person for participating in a rental assistance program like the Section 8 voucher program. It also would have required a landlord with 10 or more housing units to designate at least 10% as affordable housing. 

Ultimately, the wide-ranging and controversial bill was amended to establish a commission to study issues related to the lack of affordable housing, such as the proposed rental assistance program and discrimination by landlords against tenants who use housing vouchers. 

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