Historic unemployment during the COVID-19 pandemic has placed incredible strain on Maine renters, homeowners and landlords alike who are struggling to pay for housing and other living expenses. Before COVID-19, the Housing Authorities of Greater Portland were keenly aware of the struggle to find affordable housing in our areas of jurisdiction as a result of high market-rate rental costs, and too few landlords who would accept housing vouchers.

Now, as a direct result of the pandemic, that struggle is primed to become even more difficult. By the end of July, temporary relief from mortgage foreclosure and eviction proceedings is set to be lifted, which will put into motion a housing crisis that has the potential to have a united negative impact in our communities.

Throughout this nationwide crisis, public housing authorities have remained fully open and operational, using the tools at our disposal to help the most vulnerable of our communities: seniors, disabled, working poor and others who struggle to afford housing. While not a solution on its own, one of our primary tools is the Housing Choice Voucher Program.

Housing Choice vouchers are a win-win for those struggling to afford housing and for landlords who receive guaranteed rent payments, even in an emergency like a pandemic. In Maine, and across the country, countless lives have been transformed by landlords willing to rent to Housing Choice voucher holders. Many times, we have seen hardworking people use the Housing Choice Voucher Program to get their footing and go on to become homeowners in our local communities.

Funded by the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development and administered locally by public housing authorities, the Housing Choice Voucher Program helps make market-rate units more affordable for low-income families while not compelling landlords to accept less than the current market rate. In practice, a voucher holder applies to a property through a participating landlord’s normal application process and is screened for suitability in the same manner as all apartment applicants. Tenants who utilize Housing Choice vouchers are required to be current on their payments in order to keep their voucher. However, if tenants experience income loss, they may apply for an adjustment to the portion of the rent they are responsible for, helping ensure they remain in their home and landlords continue to receive a full rate for their units.

For the program to succeed in getting people into housing they can afford, landlord participation is essential. We must begin to open up more properties and break down the affordable-housing silos. While many potential tenants have vouchers in hand and housing authorities have vouchers available, the challenges remain. Understandably, landlords weigh many considerations when deciding to participate, and public housing authorities are always actively working with HUD to better understand landlords’ questions and concerns and deploy strategies to help address them.

One factor that has affected the Portland area in particular is the rapidly rising cost of market-rate rents over the last decade. In 2015, Portland made national headlines when a real estate data firm survey found that rental costs in Portland were growing at a rate higher than they were even in San Francisco, which to this day is among the most expensive housing markets in the nation.

While market-rate rents may be financially more attractive to landlords, there are risks. Landlords who participate in the Housing Choice Voucher program ensure a stable rental income while providing housing stability for tenants. Not only is this a good business decision, but it is a true service to the community as well.

As the public housing authorities serving the people of the Portland area, we are committed to fostering participation in the Housing Choice Voucher program and other programs we administer through responsive communication and education. We remain fully open and operational during the COVID-19 pandemic in order to continue processing requests for information, vouchers, rent adjustments and other services.

Each housing authority has a dedicated voucher programs staff who can answer questions and provide guidance through the process. , Visit hud.gov/states/maine/renting/hawebsites to find your local public housing authority. If you have a unit you would like to list and make available to Housing Choice Voucher participants, please visit mainehousingsearch.org.

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