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State plans up to 140 housing units for asylum seeker families

A grey apartment building with white porches and external walkways on a street.
Ari Snider
Over the winter, a couple dozen asylum-seeking families lived in this rental property in Old Orchard Beach. The state is now planning to create 140 new units, primarily in the greater Portland area.

The state announced this week that it will create about 140 new housing units for asylum seeking families, primarily in southern Maine.

Portland and other municipalities are struggling to provide housing for hundreds of asylum seekers - and for months city officials and immigrant advocates have been calling on the state to do more.

The housing units will be a mix of new construction and renovated existing properties, according to Greg Payne, senior housing advisor to Governor Janet Mills. He said the plan is for families to be able to start moving in September.

Payne said the properties will be located within a 30-minute driving distance of Portland, adding that the goal is for these properties to become permanent housing options for the families. The state will cover rental costs for up to two years, or until the asylum-seeking families secure work permits.

"I think the idea here is that perhaps it'll only take you know, a certain family eight months to get their work permit and to be able to pay the rent on their own," he said. "And at that point, they're not going to need the rental assistance anymore, but they won't be obligated to leave."

Payne said the rental assistance money will come from funds already appropriated for housing in the state's supplemental budget.

Portland and South Portland recently announced that they would no longer be able to provide housing to newly arrived asylum seekers, because the motels where hundreds of families are already living are at capacity.