A new MaineHousing grant program for housing shelters is getting up and running thanks to a Brunswick lawmaker’s bill.

Rep. Poppy Arford. Courtesy of Poppy Arford

State Rep. Poppy Arford, a Democrat, sponsored L.D. 1844, which was approved by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Janet Mills in July. It established the Emergency Housing Matching Grant Program, which will allow the state’s roughly 35 full-time emergency shelters to apply for grants to expand, renovate or acquire new buildings.

Lawmakers funded it with $257,000.

“Emergency housing has traditionally been underfunded,” Arford said. “To really address the housing crisis we’re experiencing statewide, we need to pay adequate attention to the bottom line of our housing structure, which is emergency housing.”

The grants can be used for the “construction, renovation or acquisition of a new or existing building to provide emergency housing and shelter services,” according to the bill. The grants can also be used to cover the costs to lease a building. Requests over $100,000 require a shelter to secure matching funds from a source other than the state.

The guidelines for shelters to apply for grants will be released in the spring, according to Scott Thistle, MaineHousing’s communications director.

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“Rep. Arford’s bill provides an important new opportunity for enhancing and renovating resources in our communities that are needed in our on-going efforts to reduce homelessness in Maine,” Thistle said in a statement.

A rendering of Tedford Housing’s new shelter planned for Thomas Point Road in Brunswick. Tedford may be eligible to apply for a new state grant program for the $8.3 million project. Courtesy of Tedford Housing

Andrew Lardie, executive director of Tedford Housing, which runs the Midcoast’s only emergency shelter in Brunswick, said his organization may apply for grants for its new shelter that’s expected to break ground next year. He said Tedford has raised $5.2 million so far for the $8.3 million project.

survey earlier this year found Maine’s homeless population doubled to 4,411 from 2019–2022. Arford said tragedies like the 2019 death of a homeless Brunswick man who was found in a sleeping bag in frigid weather moved her to file her bill. She said emergency housing is an important safety net for people who have been left homeless through no fault of their own due to circumstances like rent hikes or a landlord renovating a building.

“Without that rung of the ladder, they’re trapped at the bottom,” she said. “It’s important we have an emergency housing network across the state.”

Arford originally requested $5 million to fund the grant program.

“$257,000 isn’t much money in the big scheme of things, but without that money, the bill would still be on the table, so from that perspective it’s huge,” she said.

Arford said the program can be further funded by lawmakers and from outside sources like the federal government or individual contributions.

“It’s a huge win,” she said.

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