Shalom House, a nonprofit that helps people with mental illness, is scrambling to find new homes for tenants who are being evicted from a Parkside apartment complex so the landlord can renovate or rebuild on the site.

All of the tenants in a 24-unit apartment complex at 61-69 Grant St. were given eviction notices on Dec. 23.

Though the notice gave tenants until March 1 to leave, an attorney at a nonprofit law firm for low-income people said that tenants are not legally obligated to leave until the landlord gets a court order. The next court date for evictions is March 10.

While some tenants already have left, about 14 remain. Most of them are low-income or struggle with mental illness or both.

Shalom House, which provides housing vouchers for the mentally ill on Grant Street and throughout Maine, has been working since December to secure new housing in Portland, where many of the social services the tenants use are located, said Ginny Dill, the nonprofit’s subsidies director.

So far, options are limited in Portland because high demand for apartments is driving up rents and the real estate market is attracting investment in market-rate and luxury housing.

“It’s a more competitive market, so they’re competing with people who can pay much higher rates,” Dill said. “My primary concern is that individuals will not be able to find shelter and end up back on the streets or in the homeless shelter.”

Dill said Shalom House provides housing assistance to 1,000 in Portland and York County. Statewide, the agency provides subsides to 1,500 people.

However, unlike vouchers used by the Portland Housing Authority, which must be used in Portland, Shalom House vouchers can be used in any community. The agency works with about 500 different landlords, but that number is shrinking as market rents increase.

“It has dwindled as people have bought the buildings and basically evicted for no cause,” Dill said. “This certainly isn’t the first time we’ve had to deal with it. It’s increasing with the gentrification of Portland.”

The agency’s goal is to find people housing in Portland, so they can have easy access to the social services they need to have a more stable life. She said the agency will help tenants pay their security deposits and any application and screening fees required by landlords – costs that many renters have said discriminate against low-income people.

But with the eviction deadline approaching, the agency may be forced to move people out of the city, where they will have the added stress of figuring out how to get the help they need.

“When you’re faced with a crisis like this, getting them safely housed is the most important piece,” Dill said.

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

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