Housing justice bills offer comprehensive change to help Mainers find and stay in homes

Wed, 03/03/2021 - 1:45pm

A safe, secure home is a fundamental need, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. But the pandemic has made the housing situation even tougher for many Mainers, with more than 5,000 Maine men, women and children facing eviction and homelessness every year.

And once a person becomes homeless, the private housing market makes it extremely difficult for them to find a new place to live.

Advocates and legislators say Maine’s housing system needs comprehensive policy change to take care of all Mainers.

A slate of bills in the Maine legislature will make it easier for Mainers to stay in their homes, to find food, shelter and support when they experience homelessness, and to find and secure housing.

They would make it easier for people to avoid being evicted, and provide funding to build more affordable homes while creating new jobs and reduce carbon emissions by home builders.

The bills would make it harder for landlords to discriminate against tenants who use rental assistance vouchers, and create a state guarantee that everyone who needs housing assistance can actually get it.

State Rep. Victoria Morales is sponsor of LD 473, “Act to Create Maine Rental Voucher Assistance and Guarantee Program.”

She says that with MaineHousing reporting that 25,000 people in Maine are waiting for federal Section 8 vouchers, it’s time for Maine to step up: ‘We know that without stable and affordable housing, Maine people cannot access the benefits of education, health care, treatment, or job opportunity. This crisis impacts our children, our workers, our seniors and our businesses.’

Lewiston resident Brendan Akers has experienced homelessness in the past, and says people who need housing assistance should be able to get it without waiting for years: ‘The Section 8 program helped my family get stable housing. But I was able to get to the front of the waiting line because I’m a veteran. Meanwhile, my mom was on the waiting list for years. Lots of people need help, and we know they’re eligible for help, so why wouldn’t we fully fund a program that we know people need?’

Other bills would prohibit background check companies from wrongfully denying a person a home because a previous landlord acted illegally in trying to evict them, or had their eviction dismissed.

And they would ensure that every community sets a goal for affordable housing, while expanding regional homeless services, creating supportive housing for people coming out of homelessness.

Maine Equal Justice Litigation and Policy Director Frank D'Alessandro says, ‘Maine's rental housing market is among the least affordable in the nation, and our state has not done enough to protect people who are being priced out of their homes. We need to come together to pass common-sense improvements in Maine’s housing laws, to protect renters and provide more support for Mainers seeking affordable homes. Maine has an opportunity this year to leverage federal and state dollars to make a big impact and lay the groundwork for long-term solutions.’
Housing Justice Maine is a coalition that includes the Maine Immigrant Housing Coalition, Maine People’s Housing Coalition, Maine Raise-Op Housing Cooperative, Southern Maine Workers Center, and Maine Equal Justice.

List of Bills, sponsors, and LD numbers if assigned:

Sen. Anne Carney - Act To Prevent Homelessness by Establishing an Eviction Mediation Program. This bill would help people who are facing eviction find and access resources like legal aid or rental assistance, to stay housed, and the opportunity to request mediation. These changes to the legal process will give tenants more opportunities in the legal process to work out a solution with their landlord or lender.  
Rep. Victoria Morales - LD 473 - Act to Create Maine Rental Voucher Assistance and Guarantee Program. This bill requires the Maine State Housing Authority to establish and administer the Maine Rental Assistance and Voucher Guarantee Program. The program must include a rental assistance component to assist individuals with the cost of rent and a rental voucher guarantee component to encourage landlords to work with the program and other rental assistance programs in the State. The bill also creates the Maine Rental Assistance and Voucher Guarantee Program Fund under the Maine State Housing Authority to carry out the program.

Rep. Tavis Hasenfus  -  Act to Enact the Maine Data Collection Protection Act. This bill would require background check companies and landlords to use eviction records with care and not wrongfully deny a tenant housing based on an eviction filing that was dismissed, or involved illegal conduct on the part of the landlord.
Rep. Benjamin Collings - Act to Prohibit Discrimination in Housing Based on a Person’s Source of Income. This act would prevent landlords from refusing to accept tenants based solely on their receipt of rental assistance.
Rep. Kristen Cloutier - LD175, HP128 - An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue To Create and Enhance Regional Homeless Shelters.  This bill authorizes a state Bond for $50 million to create and enhance regional homeless shelters.

Rep. Michael Brennan - LD50 - An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue To Invest in Housing for Persons Who Are Homeless. The funds provided by this bond issue, in the amount of $15,000,000, will be used for capital construction costs for housing for persons who are homeless.

Rep. Victoria Morales - Act to Reform the General Assistance Program to Improve Housing Security. The act modifies the general assistance program (GA) to ensure that it provides adequate support to emergency shelter. The act would also make rental assistance under GA operate more like a voucher program - with rents based on a household contributing ⅓ of income towards housing cost.
Rep. Rebecca Millett - An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue for Energy-efficient Affordable Housing. This act authorizes a $100 million bond to fund the construction of green affordable housing with strong labor standards.

Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross - LR 1645 - Maine Community Choice Housing Act.  This bill establishes a minimum fair housing goal for each community consistent with local needs, and lowers regulatory barriers to creating new affordable housing where those minimums are unmet.


Nora Flaherty is director of Media and Public Affairs at the Maine People's Alliance