Midcoast town leaders and nonprofits are hoping General Assistance programs will support residents left out in the cold by the expiring federal Emergency Rental Assistance program, while lawmakers in Augusta race to pass emergency legislation to support struggling Mainers.

“It’s probably the No. 1 one issue that’s in my inbox,” Sen. Mattie Daughtry told the Brunswick Town Council Monday evening. “We’re starting to hear some pretty dire stories.”

What is the Emergency Rental Assistance program?

Enacted by Congress in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Emergency Rental Assistance program provided states with funds to aid residents struggling under the burden of rent, utility and other housing costs.

Since the program got off the ground midway through 2021, MaineHousing has approved over $292 million in aid, with most of that money covering qualifying Mainers’ rent checks, according to the housing authority’s website.

Over 300 Brunswick families have benefitted from ERA, with 77 still on the program as of the end of November, said Deb Crocker, the town’s human services administrator.

About 80 Bath families have used the program, according to City Manager Marc Meyers.


As Maine’s ERA funds have dwindled, fewer residents have been able to secure rental assistance. MaineHousing stopped accepting new applicants on Sept. 29, and the program is set to officially end at the conclusion of 2022.

What could ERA’s end mean for Midcoast residents?

The Emergency Rental Assistance program is ending at a time when rising energy costs and a housing shortage have led to a spike in residents seeking aid, according to housing experts.

Tedford Housing, which currently has a waitlist of 140 families seeking a spot in the shelter’s six family units, turned away over 700 people in need of emergency housing last year, according to Executive Director Rota Knott. While the region’s limited housing supply is the largest factor driving residents to shelters, Knott said high heating costs and the expiration of ERA have already contributed to the problem of housing insecurity.

“We are absolutely expecting to see a significant increase in calls because of this situation,” she said. “Shelters across the state have been wondering what the plan is when this ends, because we can’t accommodate that need.”

Pandemic-relief programs like ERA papered over a long-simmering housing crisis, said Bath Housing Executive Director Deb Keller, who noted local rents have increased 70% over the past seven years.

Now, after two years of extreme inflation, residents are losing a key safety net and finding the situation more dire than ever. While some will be able to find money to avoid eviction, they may have to sacrifice other necessities to do so, which will strain other welfare programs.


“People were able to use the rent relief, and that provided them a little financial cushion,” Keller said. “They could cover their medical costs; they could cover the increases in transportation costs; they could cover the increases in food costs. Now, the rent isn’t being paid. Does that mean they’re going to get evicted? Maybe not, but now they can’t pay for their transportation. They can’t pay for their food.”

What help is on the way?

On Wednesday, Maine legislators met in Augusta to hold a public hearing on L.D. 3, which would provide $473 million in heating aid, short-term housing support and direct $450 checks to qualifying taxpayers.

While the bill would not extend ERA, it could help put money in the pockets of those who most need it, Daughtry told the Brunswick Town Council Monday.

“Our hope is, by making these programs better funded, that we’ll hopefully be able to take a little pressure off not only the individuals in dire financial need but also municipalities like Brunswick trying to be able to step up to provide that assistance,” she said.

The bill will need to clear both houses of the Legislature, which returns to session on Jan. 4, with a two-thirds majority in order to come into effect immediately as emergency legislation. If that happens, aid will arrive in the Midcoast toward the end of the month, according to Daughtry. If it passes with less than a two-thirds majority, it won’t come into effect until summer, long after the need for heating assistance will have passed.

While Augusta works on its package, Midcoast towns are left to hope that their General Assistance programs will protect the residents most at risk of eviction.


Only about 20% of the 77 Brunswick families currently relying on ERA appear to be at serious immediate risk of eviction, according to Crocker. She believes those families should be able to qualify for General Assistance, which will provide them with relief they need, at least during their first month on the program when aid restrictions are looser.

But if aid from the Legislature doesn’t come through this winter, Brunswick’s General Assistance office, which is funded 30% through local taxes, could find itself short on both the money and manpower to keep up with increasing demand, Town Manager John Eldridge said.

“We’re expecting other pressures on GA — significant pressures — in the next few months,” he said. “We’ve got our work cut out for us.”

While Knott and other housing advocates support the local and statewide efforts to provide emergency aid to renters and homeowners, they agree the state cannot truly solve the crisis at hand without also prioritizing efforts to build new housing units.

“There’s a lot of talk about putting folks in hotels again and other short-term solutions,” Knott said. “Unless … we do something with permanent housing, those are just Band-Aids on a gushing wound.”

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