Avesta Housing is negotiating contracts to provide 100 apartments for asylum seekers now receiving emergency shelter in Greater Portland hotels.

The permanent housing will be located in projects under construction in Portland and South Portland, but Avesta and state officials aren’t saying exactly where they are or who’s building them.

The rents will be funded with a portion of the $22 million that the Legislature earmarked in the biennial state budget to address emergency housing needs across Maine. The cost of the apartments hasn’t been announced, but it’s expected to be a lot less than the $200 to $300 per night that MaineHousing and other agencies are paying for hotel rooms.

“That cost is just not sustainable,” said Dana Totman, Avesta Housing’s executive director. “Part of what we’re doing is going to save significant public dollars.”

Avesta, a nonprofit affordable housing developer and manager in Portland, is negotiating the rental terms with the contractors, sellers and investors affiliated with the two properties, including MaineHousing, Totman said.

Avesta expects to sign the contracts by September and tenants will be able to move in by the end of the year, greatly reducing the three to four years it usually takes to develop housing from scratch, he said.


After the asylum seekers and their families occupy the apartments, Avesta will work with city officials and area agencies to help the newcomers settle into the community, navigate the asylum process, get work permits and find employment, he said. With job openings everywhere, asylum seekers offer a ready work force.

“There’s a whole labor force available to us,” Totman said. “The quicker we get them into housing and help them get work permits, the better for everyone.”

The asylum seekers will be expected to live in the apartments for about two years, Totman said. Avesta has about 1,500 individuals and families, including asylum seekers, on its waiting list for apartments, he said.

“We’re trying to build housing for everyone – older Mainers, homeless individuals, people with disabilities,” Totman said. “By providing apartments for asylum seekers, we’re leveling the playing field for people who can’t compete because they don’t have income yet and don’t qualify for Section 8 housing vouchers.”

While Totman wouldn’t say where the 100 apartments are located, Avesta is completing the second phase of West End Apartments, a 52-unit, mixed-income project at 586 Westbrook St. in South Portland. The first phase, a 64-unit building next door, opened last year.

To address a multifaceted housing crisis, Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, has funded more than $130 million in affordable and workforce housing initiatives, bolstered by federal pandemic recovery funding.


As a result, 974 housing units are being built with financing from MaineHousing, with an additional 1,833 units in development, said Scott Thistle, agency spokesperson.

MaineHousing oversaw the opening of 450 affordable units in 2021 – nearly double the average 230 new units produced annually from 2014 through 2020, according to the Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation and the Future.

The units to be earmarked for asylum seekers were already in the state’s affordable housing pipeline, said Greg Payne, senior adviser on housing policy in the innovation office.

“The housing developers of these projects deserve credit for making these units available,” Payne said in an email. “In our conversations, they expressed a sincere interest in helping these families in recognition of the challenges they have overcome on their journey to Maine.”

Also, using a portion of the $22 million that the Legislature appropriated for emergency housing, MaineHousing has been contracted to shelter asylum seekers and their families at Comfort Inn in Saco, where they have access to services through Catholic Charities, Payne said.

“Those families and individuals now moving to Saco had been residing at other hotels, and will eventually number about 300 people,” Payne said. The governor’s innovation office and MaineHousing are working with Saco officials to work through the details of the transition, which started in July, he said.

South Portland officials recently imposed a deadline on hotels that have been providing emergency shelter to indigent people and asylum seekers, giving them until early next year to resume regular licensed hotel operations. Days Inn and Comfort Inn near the Maine Mall have agreed to stop taking new shelter guests after Dec. 31.

And this month, MaineHousing and the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project signed a three-year, $750,000 contract to expand staffing and engagement with asylum seekers and their families to assist with attaining asylum and work authorization, Payne said.

“(It) should make a big difference in helping asylees navigate the asylum application and work authorization processes, so they can more quickly join the workforce,” he said.

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