A for rent sign stands outside a building in Portland on Friday, May 6, 2022. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

AUGUSTA, Maine — New applications for the state’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program have been put on hold as MaineHousing waits to see if more federal funding is released.

An unanticipated uptick in demand on the program, coupled with uncertain new revenue reportedly prompted MaineHousing’s leadership team to make this decision.

The program stopped accepting new applications or renewed applications for rent or electric utility assistance on Thursday.

The program, which was started in March of 2021 as a temporary support, is paid for with federal funds authorized under a pair of COVID-19 relief laws.

MaineHousing says the agency’s staff notified Gov. Janet Mills’ office, legislative leaders and the 10 community action agencies across Maine that have worked to help administer this program.

While MaineHousing says it initially projected program funds would last at least through December 2022, the unexpected uptick in program demand over the last several weeks has accelerated the depletion of available funds.

This uptick also undermined program changes made in June to preserve funding that included reducing eligibility and placing federal price caps on hotel and motel rates paid by the program, according to MaineHousing.

MaineHousing says pausing new applications now allows them and community action agencies time to process more than 11,000 pending requests to the program.

Maine was among the first states to open its ERA program under the federal relief laws and since the program’s inception it has aided 33,719 households and expended more than $275 million, according to MaineHousing. Those who have been helped by the program include more than 25,800 children and 7,893 older Mainers.

MaineHousing says the program largely pays rent directly to an eligible household’s landlord and has helped prevent evictions while also stabilizing rental housing businesses both small and large across Maine.

MaineHousing says its decision to pause accepting new applicants to the program puts the state among dozens of others who have paused or ended their ERA programs, including New York, California, Florida, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.