MaineHousing launches new rent relief program

AUGUSTA — MaineHousing is overseeing a new Emergency Rental Assistance Program for Maine renters affected by COVID-19. The program will officially begin accepting applications Monday, March 1, at noon.

“We are all living under the direction to stay ‘safe at home.’ We need to make sure that every Mainer has a stable home for themselves and their families,” said Daniel Brennan, director of MaineHousing. “We have heard and felt the urgency from many who fear that one of their most basic needs is threatened. This program will help meet that need, and we’re ready with the assistance and support for it to work effectively.”

The program is funded by the second federal COVID-19 stimulus package passed in December, which provides $200 million in rental assistance funding to Maine. The U.S. Treasury Department released new guidance for the program on Feb. 22.

“We have been working with the Community Action Agencies every day to craft a program to meet federal guidelines, but more importantly the needs of Mainers,” Brennan continued. “We are eager to get these funds to those who need it. As with every new system that agencies, businesses, and organizations are creating to deal with COVID-19, we are doing our best to incorporate lessons learned and customer feedback. This has been a huge lift, and we’re honored to do it.”

Program updates include a number of changes from previous rental relief programs, including the ability for applicants to apply for rent and utilities owed back to March 13, 2020, and three months of rent in advance of the application date. People living in subsidized housing may also qualify.

Applicants must meet the following criteria:

  • Be at or below a certain income, which varies depending on location and household size.
  • Have had their income reduced, incurred significant costs, OR experienced other financial hardships because of COVID-19 OR qualified for unemployment benefits between March 13, 2020, and the date they apply.
  • Must show 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.

The new program offers several advantages, including a significant, dedicated funding source. Rather than a monthly rental assistance program, the funding allowed MaineHousing and Maine’s Community Action Agencies to design a program that can last for up to 15 months depending on an applicant’s needs. This more predictable program eliminates the need for tenants to apply monthly or keep track of changing program requirements. The program also offers housing stability services for those at risk of losing their housing.

High demand at the outset of the program is anticipated, so it may take some time to process applications. Tenants and landlords should communicate about the program, as both parties will need to submit and sign documentation.

Several additional program updates are at MaineHousing will add a link to the application when the program opens today at noon. If someone needs a paper application or has general questions about the program, they can call MaineHousing at (800) 452-4668. If someone has application-specific questions, they should call their local Community Action Agency.

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