Some Mainers living in hotels scramble as policies shift

Published: Oct. 26, 2021 at 6:33 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Maine (WABI) - Some people caught in an affordable housing crisis in Central Maine tell TV5 the problem could soon be getting worse.

A number of hotels in the Waterville and Augusta areas are set to implement changes on November 1st that some guests say will leave them out on the streets.

“There’s gonna be a lot of families who need to find somewhere to camp because there’s nowhere for us to go,” said Melissa Blodgett, a mother who’s working towards her bachelor’s degree.

Blodgett and her family have been living at a hotel in Augusta for the last two months. She says she got a letter from the hotel last week saying as of November 1st, they won’t be accommodating long-term stays. That’s the same time some hotels in the Waterville area will also stop accepting Emergency Rental Assistance Funds, according to KVCAP.

Letter from hotel
Letter from hotel(Melissa Blodgett)

“I have Section 8, can’t find affordable housing,” Blodgett said. “There’s a couple of places I have found, but they have 50, 60 applications each... A lot of these places are charging $25-per-adult application fees or $50-per-adult application fees, and they’re getting 50, 60 applications. So, in the short term it makes more sense not to rent the apartment because they’re getting more in application fees than they would from the rent.”

A mental health case manager who spoke to TV5 says the housing crisis is making her job even more challenging, and she fears some Mainers are slipping through the cracks.

“When you’re homeless, you can’t get a lot of services that people need,” said Jennifer Gorman, a mental health case manager. “When someone needs mental health services, for instance, and they’re homeless, it makes it really difficult for them to even reach out. People that have physical needs, when they’re homeless, makes it hard for them to want to reach out.”

Another family landed at the same hotel as Blodgett after some members found jobs with Bath Iron Works at a hiring fair in Texas.

“We came here expecting housing might be a little difficult to find, but we never expected this,” said Curtis Mann. “If you would’ve told us that, yeah, you’ll make $20, $22 an hour but you won’t be able to find housing, I probably would’ve chosen to stay in Texas.”

Mann says they spent their entire savings on application fees and are living paycheck to paycheck with most, if not all, of what they earn going towards housing.

“I have another place to go, but they want like $960 a week,” Mann said. “It’s a choice between I pay that or I get rid of my animals. Well, I can’t get rid of my animals, so we’re going to have to figure out how to pay whatever we have to pay.”

“[There are] one or two bedroom [apartments] for $1,800. That’s what I was paying in New York,” said Ashley Staples, who’s originally from Maine and recently moved back. “Up here I would’ve thought it would’ve been a little easier to get on my feet, and it’s not.”

Staples is staying at another Augusta hotel and is facing the same November 1st deadline.

She says she was abused by her ex before leaving with her now-five year old daughter.

She’s on waiting lists at shelters and is working on getting an apartment, but in the meantime she’s facing an impossible decision.

“It makes me question whether or not I should go back and be with him just to not have to deal with this,” said Ashley. “My whole life has always been about trying to find a place that was my home, and right now I feel like I can’t even do that for my kid.”

Everyone TV5 spoke with is calling on elected leaders to take action to address the housing crisis. Blodgett has some specific ideas.

“My solution to this would be: short term, take a building. Find one of these buildings that’s not being used right now and put cots in it for emergency housing for people. And, long term, we need more affordable housing. It’s not doable at the prices they’re charging,” Blodgett said.

In a statement, KVCAP says:

“KVCAP is fortunate and grateful to have the Emergency Rental Assistance funds to pay for people to stay in hotels while they seek permanent housing.

We have been notified that some area hotels will be unable to provide this housing option as of November 1. KVCAP, MaineHousing, and other various partners are fully aware and working to identify other temporary and/or permanent options that are safe and affordable for the people who will be affected. KVCAP can continue to work with them through the Emergency Rental Assistance program.

KVCAP does not have funding, including FEMA funds, to provide shelter services. We continue to work with our shelter partners but we recognize that they are working at [or] near capacity as well.

This issue will take a community effort to help transition these families to a safe housing alternative. KVCAP stands ready to assist with this effort in whatever ways we can to ensure families and communities are healthy and thriving.”

In a statement, MaineHousing says:

Regarding the Waterville Situation:

KVCAP has made MaineHousing aware that certain local hotels that had previously accepted the Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) program will no longer do so. KVCAP has identified the households that will be impacted and has been working with its ERA team, and other area providers, to identify transition plans.

MaineHousing is one of the organizations working with KVCAP to identify resources available for impacted households. MaineHousing has worked closely with its partners to increase the number of rooms available under an existing agreement with an area hotel and the on-site service provider. We anticipate that this will provide a resource to most of the impacted households.

Regarding Availability of Resources:

At the heart of the problem, in Maine and nationally, is a lack of available, affordable units. Section 8 is a Federal Program for which there is a waiting list in every state. For more immediate needs the emergency Rental Assistance program is available.”

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