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Victoria Morales is a state representative from South Portland and the executive director of the Quality Housing Coalition.
At the end of every week for the past four years, I have said to myself, this housing crisis can’t get any worse. And then it does.
Last Friday, Maine was hit with the worst possible news for housing. On Sept. 30, MaineHousing announced it was pausing new applications and renewals of applications for federal emergency rental assistance because the demand of the program may exceed federal funding. There is no sugarcoating this crisis any longer. Those funds have paid rent directly to landlords for more than 33,000 low-income households in every county in Maine to prevent eviction.
To put low income in context, according to MaineHousing, Maine’s renter median income is $29,350, compared with $64,679 for homeowners. These are thousands of parents, school children, employees, people escaping domestic violence, people experiencing disabilities, people over 65 on fixed incomes and people escaping persecution in their home countries through the legal asylum and refugee process.
At Quality Housing Coalition, we have provided successful permanent homes to more than 800 low-income adults and children with the partnership of private and nonprofit landlords these past four years. We know that it is possible for Maine to bring together our entire community to solve this economic crisis and to prevent future crises. However, to do so, we must reckon with the facts.
Fifty-eight percent of Maine households cannot afford a median priced home to rent or purchase.
Maine has a shortage of 20,000 affordable homes.
More than 25,000 Maine households are on the waiting list for Section 8 rental assistance.
Based on income, we must assume that Mainers who qualify for MaineCare, TANF, SNAP, general assistance and LIHEAP, and nearly every family involved in the child protective and juvenile justice system also is housing insecure.
Thousands of Maine people are currently being housed in motels and hotels paid for by federal funds through the Federal Emergency Management Agency and emergency rental assistance.
Hundreds of people are living outside in Bangor and Portland because there is no place for them to go.
And, of course, winter is coming.
These facts make the urgent case for each of the following immediate actions: 1) Stabilize current tenants with continued and expanded rental assistance; 2) build, renovate and preserve at least 1000 units of affordable housing each year for the next 10 years; and 3) amend zoning ordinances in every municipality to make apartment buildings legal again.
I call on our congressional delegation and state and local governments to do everything in their power to take this immediate action to avoid the tsunami of evictions we predict we will see within the next one to three months.