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Housing advocates want Maine to replace and restart emergency rent relief program

Housing advocates are calling on the state to create an emergency rental assistance program, to replace the one that has almost been exhausted of federal funds.

The program was designed to distribute federal relief money to people who needed help paying their rent or utility bills during the pandemic. It also placed unhoused Mainers in hotel and motel rooms. Maine Housing paused the program for new applicants last month amid rising demand for help and dwindling funds.

Katie McGovern of Pine Tree Legal Assistance serves on the Commission to Increase Housing Opportunities in Maine.

"Now that those funds have dried up, I think that it's critical that we think about how to fund a state-funded program because we know otherwise a large number of people will be becoming homeless because of non-payment of rent and utilities," she said Monday during a commission meeting.

State lawmakers briefly considered a bill that would have replaced or amended the emergency rental assistance program in the last legislative session, said Sen. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, but the state was hopeful federal funds would last longer than they did.

"For us as a commission to recommend that the legislature consider establishing this program and figuring out a way to fund it that doesn't drive up taxes is a perfectly reasonable thing," Hickman said.

It's one of several recommendations that the commission said that it's prepared to send to the legislature early next month. The panel will also recommend establishing a state-wide short-term rental registry.

The commission has one last meeting next Monday to finalize recommendations and issue a final report to the legislature.