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Avesta Housing builds 52-unit apartment complex for asylum seekers in South Portland

An apartment building under construction in South Portland, Maine.
Ari Snider
Avesta Housing is nearing completion on a 52-unit apartment building in South Portland that will house families and individuals who came to Maine seeking asylum.

South Portland will soon be home to a 52-unit apartment building that will provide housing for asylum seeking families, many of whom are currently staying in motels and shelters.

But some housing advocates say the new space is just a drop in the bucket.

Avesta Housing is overseeing construction of the new property, which will be able to house over 100 people in apartments ranging in size from efficiencies to three bedrooms.

The building is part of an effort to move asylum seekers out of motels and shelters, said Amanda Gilliam, Avesta Housing's director of property management.

"So there is a preference in place for those who are currently experiencing homelessness or in temporary housing," she said. "The majority of the [applicants] that we are seeing are currently housed either in the hotels or in shelters."

Gilliam said Avesta received over 1000 applicants for the 52 units, and that tenants will be selected via a lottery system.

She said Avesta is also looking into purchasing another property in Portland, which could provide another 48 apartments for families who’ve arrived in Maine seeking asylum

Martha Stein, executive director of Hope Acts, a Portland nonprofit that helps asylum seekers find housing, said she’s happy to see more housing under construction.

But she said much more is needed to meet current demand.

"We have hundreds and hundreds of applicants for apartments, and no one can meet that need," she said.

Stein added that many of the asylum-seeking clients she works with are young families. People who, in her view, could represent the future of Maine’s workforce - if they are able to find stable housing.