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Cumberland County agency closes rent relief program due to lack of funding

The Opportunity Alliance's headquarters in South Portland.
The Opportunity Alliance's headquarters in South Portland.

The community action agency serving Cumberland County has closed its emergency rental assistance program due to lack of funding.

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.

The Opportunity Alliance informed clients earlier this week that it no longer has enough funds available to continue processing rent relief applications and had laid off many of the staff who were handling those requests.

"We continue to review what is in our system to determine what of the other applications we can pay and have prepared notification emails to tenants," Karen Turgeon, vice president of programs for the Opportunity Alliance, said in an email. "This is a very unfortunate situation that we did not anticipate this early in November."

Katie McGovern, an attorney with Pine Tree Legal Assistance, said she expects she'll receive more calls from people facing eviction, as more agencies around the state exhaust their remaining rental assistance funds.

"We'd already been getting more calls about evictions, and I believe the court filings for evictions are now increasing," she said. "And we're also getting more calls from people in hotels who are being told they have to leave."

The Opportunity Alliance said it does have enough funds to cover hotel stays for some 370 unhoused individuals through November, but they will likely receive eviction notices for December.

But McGovern said it's unclear if that's the case in other counties, as each community action agency is distributing the last of their rental assistance funds in a different way.

Pine Tree Legal Assistance has received several calls this week from people facing eviction from York County hotels, she added.

"We're seeing a lot of confusion about what's happening with the program, and whether people who had already applied, and so believed they would be receiving assistance, whether they actually will be receiving assistance," McGovern said.

MaineHousing had distributed the last of the program's funding to community action agencies late last week. In its message to clients, the Opportunity Alliance said that final disbursement was less than it anticipated, and so it made "the very tough decision" to close the program.

The organization said it is still determining whether all applicants who thought they would receive help paying rent next month will get assistance.

In the meantime, McGovern said Pine Tree Legal is focused on helping people apply for general assistance within their towns. Municipalities have warned of an overwhelming influx of new general assistance applicants as rental relief funds across the state dry up.