Maine Governor Signs Supplemental Budget with Historic Funding for Affordable Housing and Rent Relief and Provisions Advancing Racial Justice

Advocates in Maine are celebrating the state’s commitment to housing stability and affordability following the enactment of a supplemental budget with historic housing investments that was approved by the legislature on April 18 and signed into law by Governor Janet Mills on April 22. Among several housing provisions, the budget invests $20 million in new funding for affordable housing development and $18 million to pilot a rent relief program to prevent evictions and keep more residents stably housed. Additional provisions in the budget bill aim to strengthen Tribal sovereignty and better support immigrants, further advancing racial justice in Maine. Advocates worked tirelessly for over a year to build strong coalitions of impacted tenants and other stakeholders and engage with champions in the legislature to ensure approval of the new investments and policy proposals.

The Maine Affordable Housing Coalition (MAHC), an NLIHC state partner, prioritized funding for the Rural Affordable Rental Housing Program and Maine’s Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program in the supplemental budget, which, they argued, would result in the construction of 150 new homes across the state. During the short 2024 legislative session, MAHC issued many calls to action to members of its diverse coalition of more than 145 private and public sector organizations, sending dozens of emails to legislators and recruiting more than 50 people to testify in favor of housing funding in the supplemental budget. Ultimately, $10 million was approved for both programs.

“Even in the most trying times, this shows that Maine prioritizes the wellbeing of all Maine people for generations to come, by providing children, seniors, and others the foundation for success – a place to call home,” said Laura Mitchell, executive director of the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition. “We are grateful to our elected officials that know a legacy of building homes that will last for generations of Maine people matters.”

The rent relief pilot program, funded through one-time General Funds, would provide eligible renters with up to $800 per month in rental assistance paid directly to the landlord for a period of up to 24 months. An additional $2 million was approved for a subsidy program for students under 18 experiencing homelessness, and $21 million was approved for the Emergency Housing Relief Fund to continue operations of low-barrier shelters and transitional housing programs.

Maine Equal Justice (MEJ), a nonprofit civil legal aid and economic justice organization, worked for years to build a strong coalition that included impacted tenants, policy advocates, legal services, and a group called Housing Justice Maine. In 2022, impacted tenants in MEJ’s Equal Justice Partners’ Circle prioritized the high costs of rent, voucher discrimination, evictions, and homelessness in their advocacy efforts. They then worked with policymakers to draft the “HOME Act” to create a rent relief program. The Housing Justice Maine coalition brought together more impacted tenant leaders and allies to organize for rent relief and other tenant protections. In 2023 over 100 people testified in support of the HOME Act, hundreds of signatures of support were gathered, and dozens of meetings were held with legislators. Advocates continued their push in the short 2024 legislative session, bringing in the business community, delivering postcards to the governor, and holding a press conference to bring more media attention to the issue of rent relief. Subsequently, the Housing Committee and the Health and Human Services Committee recommended including rent relief funding in the supplemental budget, which was ultimately passed. Organizers believe their collaborative efforts helped elevate the issue of housing as a whole with lawmakers, resulting in the inclusion of $18 million to pilot the rent relief program and new investments in affordable housing.

“It is not easy for any renter right now; we want to bring tenants together from all backgrounds to fight for housing justice,” said Magalie Lumiere Yangala, a resident renter of Portland, Maine, and member of MEJ’s Housing Leadership Team. “Tenant support for rent relief helped show legislators the struggle everyday people face around housing, and they heard us! This rent relief program will provide help to many people in Maine. To be among the leadership that worked to pass this bill and bring attention to this issue makes me proud to be a renter and to help represent my community. We will keep fighting until everyone has a home.”

In addition to the wins for affordable housing, the supplemental budget also established the first Maine Office of New Americans (ONA) and strengthened self-determination for the Wabanaki Nations, both efforts that can support populations disproportionately impacted by the housing crisis and help Maine advance racial justice.

“Immigrants and grassroot organizations often feel disconnected from government agencies and resources in a way that small, community-based organizations cannot resolve on their own,” said Dina Malual, policy advocate for Maine Equal Justice. “By building relationships with immigrant Mainers and the organizations already serving them, the Maine Office of New Americans can bridge the support between community-based organizations and our state agencies. The office is an opportunity to centralize and streamline immigrant support across Maine. Amid an aging population and workforce shortages in key sectors, the office can directly improve the participation and retention of immigrants in the workforce by providing consistent and accessible resources for all.”

Meanwhile, LD-2007 modernizes several provisions to the controversial “Maine Indian Land Claims Settlement Act of 1980” (MICSA). In addition to settling some land claims for the Wabanaki Nations, MICSA empowered the state to block the applicability of federal Indian policy in Maine, including laws concerning housing, health care, and managing disasters. Advocates have long argued that MICSA has stunted economic and social development for the Wabanaki Nations. For example, a 2022 report found that the Wabanaki Nations faced significantly higher rates of child poverty and overcrowding and lower per capita incomes than Maine as a whole. Due to the legacy of colonization and ongoing discrimination, Native Americans living in tribal communities have some of the worst housing needs in the country, and NLIHC’s Gap report shows that American Indian or Alaska Native people are more likely to be extremely low-income renters than Black, Hispanic, Asian or white households. Though LD-2007 excludes many changes to MICSA recommended by advocates, it strengthens tribal courts and restores their jurisdiction for misdemeanor and some felony crimes that occur on tribal lands and that only involve members of the tribal community. Native advocates believe LD-2007 will enhance the peace, prosperity, and safety of Native people in Maine and that it represents great progress in restoring the recognition of their inherent tribal sovereignty.

Read more about the housing and other provisions approved in the supplemental budget here.