One of the five new buildings for asylum-seekers under construction at Brunswick Landing. Courtesy of Developers Collaborative

Within an hour of opening the wait list for a 60-unit affordable housing complex at Brunswick Landing for asylum-seekers, 250 families applied, according to the developer.

“We had to close the wait list,” said Kevin Bunker, founder of Portland-based Developers Collaborative. “It could have gone up to 1,000.”

The overwhelming response was indicative of the asylee crisis in Maine and across the country. More than 1,000 asylum-seekers have arrived in Portland since Jan. 1, according to the Portland Press Herald. A temporary shelter at the Portland Expo Center with room for 300 people hit capacity; others have been staying at hotels in southern Maine and about 100 were recently bused to Sanford.

The asylees, who mostly come from Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo, have few options. Aside from the Brunswick Landing development, a 52-unit Avesta Housing complex in South Portland that received 1,000 applications in February is the only long-term housing development in the region reserved for asylum-seekers.

“It’s incredibly critical,” Bunker said of the need for asylee housing. “They come here without a lot, and to integrate as citizens, the first thing they need is affordable housing.”

Developers Collaborative’s $13 million Brunswick Landing complex has five buildings containing 12 units each. Half are one-bedrooms and the other half are two-bedrooms. The first building is expected to open for occupancy in August and the last is expected to open by November, according to Bunker. Those on the wait list will be selected in the order they applied provided they complete the housing application.


He said he got the idea for the development last year while talking with MaineHousing and Gov. Janet Mills’ office about the asylee crisis.

MaineHousing is covering the rent for the Brunswick Landing units for two years, which is about how long it takes for asylum status to be granted. MaineHousing is also providing an $8 million loan package, while the Brunswick-based Genesis Community Loan Fund is providing a $4 million loan.

Brunswick officials are supporting the asylees in several ways. The town has a Welcome Center that provides free English lessons, a municipal GoFundMe campaign for furniture and other essential living items has raised more than $40,000, and the Brunswick School Department is hiring more staff to accommodate a possible influx of up to 100 students when school begins in the fall.

Belinda Ray is the director of strategic partnerships for the Greater Portland Council of Governments, which has been working with southern Maine communities to find housing solutions for asylees.

“Brunswick has been very welcoming,” Ray said. “It’s becoming more difficult to find housing in Portland and people are seeking opportunities to live elsewhere.”

She said a barrier for asylees is that it can take months to obtain a work permit.


“Because of Maine’s demographics of an older population aging out of workforce, having these folks who are skilled and younger and have families coming to our communities is really an opportunity for the state,” she said.

Bunker agreed.

“That needs to be fixed,” he said. “They need the right to work.”

Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King recently sponsored legislation that would shorten that work permit waiting time down to 30 days.

“This extended waiting period is holding back Maine’s full economic potential,” King said in a statement. “It prevents asylum-seekers from earning a paycheck, pointlessly shrinks the worker pool for businesses in need of employees and increases the financial burden on local governments. Across the state, I keep seeing ‘Now Hiring’ signs on windows. With Maine facing serious workforce challenges, now is the time to shorten the waiting period for asylum-seekers who just want to contribute, work hard and put food on their table.”

Collins said, “These asylum-seekers could give a much-needed boost to Maine businesses that are facing labor shortages, but the lengthy work authorization process prevents them from getting jobs.”

Bunker, who lives in Brunswick, sees the Brunswick Landing development as a way for the asylees to start a new life and become Mainers.

“I hope that they stay and find a home in Brunswick,” he said.

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