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Greater Portland Council of Governments plans 200 housing units for asylum seekers

A man wearing a flannel shirt and a woman wearing black overalls pack plastic trays of food.
Ari Snider
Maine Public
Volunteers with the Maine Immigrants' Rights Coalition prepare meals for asylum seeking families living in a motel in South Portland in February. The new plan for transitional housing aims to provide a more affordable long-term solution to Maine's affordable housing crisis.

The Greater Portland Council of Governments is aiming to spur the creation of 200 transitional housing units for asylum seeker families over the next two years.

The council plans to raise $1.5 million to support new construction, and will also rely on grants and financing from real estate developers. The group is considering several potential sites between York and Brunswick.

Belinda Ray, the council’s director of strategic partnerships, said the goal is to get families out of the motels that are currently serving as emergency housing, and give them a jumping off point to find permanent housing.

"200 units seems like a pretty good amount to keep people for the most part out of hotels, and to have some reasonable amount of space to begin to help people transition," Ray said.

Mufalo Chitam, executive director of the Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, said the plan is an important step in building a comprehensive resettlement system in Maine.

"The creation of transitional housing for asylum seekers is a systematic and structural change that we've long been advocating for," Chitam said. "This initiative exemplifies what meaningful investment in the lives of immigrants looks like."

State government is also planning to create up to 140 long-term housing units for asylum seekers, primarily in southern Maine.

Portland and South Portland announced in May that they could no longer guarantee housing for newly arrived asylum seekers, as the hotels they contract with had reached capacity.

Currently, around 400 asylum-seeking families are living in motels as emergency housing, mostly in southern Maine.