Islanders can apply for rent relief  



MOUNT DESERT ISLAND — Last weekMaineHousing, an Augusta-based authority providing programs and services for affordable housing, initiated a new Emergency Rental Assistance Program for Maine renters affected by COVID-19.  

Though the tenants renting through L.S. Robinson have all been able to pay their rent throughout the pandemic, I know on the island that there are tenants struggling and any assistance is very welcome,” said Southwest Harbor real estate broker Joseph Wright.  

After the program’s online application system went live, demand was so strong that it crashed the site.  

With help from Maine’s community action agencies, the program will be available in all 16 counties. The second federal COVID-19 stimulus package passed in December will finance the program, which is expected to provide $200 million in rental assistance funding for Mainers.  

Year-round rental property owner James O’ Connell of Bar Harbor said that he believes landlords are charging too much for rent. “People begin resenting the landlord because they are taking too much money,” he said. O’Connell, who has owned rental properties for the last 42 years, said he has never had to evict a tenant for not paying rent, but feels really good about the funding because people are struggling.  

“People have been [desperate] for over a year and the government has money; if there’s any time for the state to start helping people out it’s now,” he said. 

Unlike previous rental relief programs, this program’s updates reflect a number of changes including the ability for applicants to apply for rent and some utilities owed as far back as last March, as well as three months of upcoming rent and utilities. Those living in subsidized housing or those who can pay their rent but need help with utilities may also qualify. 

Executive Director Duane Bartlett of the Mount Desert Island and Ellsworth Housing Authorities said he thinks the program is essential for those who have experienced losses due to COVID-19. Bartlett’s organization is known for providing housing assistance to those who are already struggling to find a place to live because of age or medical conditions. “Here for our tenants, there’s an income limit here where their rent is based on 30 percent of their income,” he said. 

It will take time to process applications because of the high demand. As both tenants and landlords will need to submit documentation, both should communicate about the program. 

Determination of eligibility includes being at or below a certain income limit, which varies depending on location and household size. Those applying must have had a reduction in income, incurred significant costs or experienced other financial hardships because of COVID-19, or who qualified for unemployment benefits between March 13, 2020, and the date they apply.  

Applicants also must show that they are at risk for becoming homeless or that they might lose their housing. This may include borrowing money to pay rent or utilities, being behind on rent or utilities, or receiving an eviction notice. 

For more information or to apply, visit www.mainehousing.org/covidrent. 

Paper applications and answers to questions about the program can be provided by calling MaineHousing at (800452-4668. For application-specific questions, call Downeast Community Partners at (207664-2424. 

Ninah Rein

Ninah Rein

Writer at Mount Desert Islander
Ninah Rein, an MDI native, covers news and features in the Bar Harbor area. She is glad to be back in Maine after earning a bachelor's degree in San Diego from the University of California.
Ninah Rein

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