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Facing summer funding cliff, Portland seeks alternate housing options for asylum seekers

The sun shines through the porch of a two story vacation rental property on a two lane street.
Ari Snider
Maine Public
About twenty asylum seeking families are living at rental properties in Old Orchard Beach. Belinda Ray, with the Greater Portland Council of Governments, said local and state governments will struggle to bear the costs of housing asylum seekers in motels when federal funding expires in July.

The city of Portland relies on federal and state funding to pay for emergency housing for over 700 asylum seekers at hotels across southern Maine. But with federal funding set to expire in July, a coalition of local governments is trying to come up with alternative housing arrangements – and they’re asking the public for help.

The combined cost of emergency housing for asylum seeker families and homeless individuals - about 1,200 people in total - is about $3.5 million per month, paid through Portland's general assistance benefits.

FEMA reimburses the city for 30% of those costs, and the state picks up the rest.

Belinda Ray, director of strategic partnerships with the Greater Portland Council of Governments, said when FEMA funding runs out in July, Portland will not be able to absorb that cost.

"This is not something that municipalities or even the state can sustain," she said. "So we really need a better solution for this temporary, transitional housing."

Ray said her organization is considering various options, such as trailers or small, pre-fabricated cabins.

It has also launched a social media campaign soliciting housing ideas from the public.