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Portland confirms cockroaches, code violations at motel housing asylum seekers

As of Wednesday, 64 asylum seeker families were living at the Motel 6 in Portland. City staff are aiming to move everyone out by July 1st.
Ari Snider
Maine Public
As of Wednesday, 64 asylum seeker families were living at the Motel 6 in Portland. City staff are aiming to move everyone out by July 1st.

State regulators have partially revoked the lodging license for a Motel 6 in Portland currently serving as emergency shelter for asylum seekers. A follow-up inspection found cockroaches and other code violations, and the city now plans to rehouse all 64 families by July 1st.

The state Department of Health and Human Services revoked the license for all but five of the hotel's 128 rooms because they were functioning as long-term stays.

Following that decision, city inspectors found a cockroach infestation at the hotel. Inspectors also found that 74 occupied rooms were not registered as long term rentals with the city, another code violation.

In a written notice to the motel, Portland's Permitting and Inspections Department noted that the motel had "an active and satisfactory remediation plan in place" to address the cockroaches.

But one former resident, an Angolan asylum seeker who gave her name only as Maria, said the infestation is a long-running problem.

Maria, who lived the motel for about eight months last year, said she often found the insects in her room, and in her infant daughter's crib.

"Every time I put her in the crib, I found cockroaches there," Maria said, in French. "And I was afraid that the cockroaches could crawl into her ears or her nose."

Aaron Geyer, Portland's social services director, said he's hopeful that the city's resettlement team will be able to rehouse all residents by July 1st - the deadline for the motel to address the code violations.

But he said losing the motel - one of the only ones in Portland that would accept General Assistance payments - complicates the emergency housing landscape.

"It will certainly reduce capacity to find housing for folks or find placement for folks even temporary placement for individuals," Geyer said.

City spokesperson Jessica Grondin said Portland was already looking to phase out using hotels as emergency shelter. She said Motel 6 is charging about $200 per room per night.

"So it's certainly inflated to the point where that's a lot of money to be spending for these services. And so we're really trying to get out of that hotel and use other solutions," Grondin said.

In an email, a spokesperson for the state Department of Health and Human Services also called attention to the burden placed on General Assistance programs when hotels are used as emergency shelter, writing that "The rates that Motel 6 charged the City while failing to maintain safe and healthy conditions is an egregious example, but even when motels and hotels charge reasonable rates for adequate rooms, long-term use of hotels as housing is not sustainable for the GA program or a good use of taxpayer dollars."

Motel staff declined to answer questions on Wednesday and did not allow a Maine Public reporter to talk with guests on site.

On Thursday, a spokesperson for Motel 6 wrote in an email that “Motel 6 is committed to providing clean, comfortable rooms and great service at an affordable rate, and we work hard to ensure a positive guest experience at our locations.  Any time we fall short, we work closely with our franchise owners/operators to remedy the situation and ensure they are operating in line with our best-in-class standards," adding that, “In January, the city informed the owner of this Motel 6 that their agreement will be ending, as the city plans to revert to traditional housing methods, such as shelters.” 

Updated: March 28, 2024 at 1:09 PM EDT
This story has been updated to include a statement from a Motel 6 spokesperson.