Carney bill, partnership between MaineHousing and Pine Tree Legal would help address looming eviction crisis in Maine

Posted: June 14, 2021 | Senator Carney, Senator Hickman

AUGUSTA — A recent report released by Maine Affordable Housing Coalition analyzes disparities in eviction cases in Maine. The report shows that tenants far too often lag behind landlords in legal representation, and case outcomes continue to strongly correlate with this imbalance. Additionally, the report found that eviction filings disproportionately affect neighborhoods with higher numbers of renters who are people of color. 

Sen. Anne Carney

LD 1508, “An Act To Prevent Homelessness by Establishing an Eviction Mediation Program,” sponsored by Sen. Anne Carney, D-Cape Elizabeth, would help address this problem. The bill would create a program to help ensure renters have access to legal assistance and know what legal protections they have under Maine law. The Maine Senate passed an amended version of the bill in an initial vote on Monday, in a vote of 21-14.

In response to the coalition report and LD 1508, MaineHousing, which has run rental assistance programs throughout the pandemic, is partnering with Pine Tree Legal Assistance to ensure that every tenant who needs help remaining stably housed has access to legal assistance, understands their rights and the eviction process, and if eligible, receives rental assistance. The two organizations also plan to continue to work with cultural brokers to ensure that Maine’s communities of color – who are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and face eviction at a higher rate – have access to resources and assistance in their language of choice. MaineHousing will use federal Emergency Rental Assistance funds to help support this work.

“Eviction often has long-term and devastating consequences for Maine families with low income. When a family loses a home due to eviction, the family typically loses furniture, clothing and toys. Indeed, most of the family’s possessions are lost because there is no place to put them. And once a judgment of eviction is entered, it appears on a tenant’s rental history report and limits or eliminates their options for renting a safe and secure home in the future,” said Sen. Carney. “LD 1508 incorporates some of the lessons learned from the pandemic. Further, I am grateful that MaineHousing is partnering with Pine Tree Legal Assistance to provide funding so tenants who need help remaining housed have access to legal assistance, understand their rights and the eviction process, and if eligible, receive rental assistance.”

“Affordable housing is not just an issue in Southern Maine or Northern Maine. This is an issue in every kind of community in our state, and it affects the dignity of both older Mainers and stability of young working families. As our state seeks solutions for the affordable housing crisis, this partnership between Maine Housing and Pine Tree Legal is a great step forward,” said Speaker Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, who is the primary cosponsor of LD 1508.

Sen. Craig Hickman

“Even before the pandemic, low-income people and people of color faced myriad unfair disadvantages that harmed their economic security, their safety and their overall wellbeing. The COVID-19 pandemic only worsened that divide. While there is still much work that needs to be done, especially with the end to the eviction moratorium looming, LD 1508 and this partnership moves us in the right direction,” said Sen. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, Senate Chair of the Legislature’s Labor and Housing Committee. “Pine Tree Legal and MaineHousing already have programs that do incredible work to help disadvantaged Mainers; this new cooperation just makes sense.”

“As the eviction moratorium ends, we know that many Mainers may face eviction – and we need to do what we can to help,” said Daniel Brennan, Director of MaineHousing. “Over the last year, many people are in unforeseen circumstances beyond their control, and in response we’ve stood up rental assistance and housing stability programs. Now we are providing funding to Pine Tree Legal Assistance to make sure that all tenants have the resources and education they need to remain stably housed.”

“Data collected by the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition shows that tenants are less likely to have legal representation than landlords, and that lack of legal representation has a negative impact on their ability to avoid eviction and homelessness,” said Nan Heald, Executive Director of Pine Tree Legal. “By increasing legal representation for tenants, we will level the playing field and ensure that state and federal laws are upheld.”

The Maine Affordable Housing Coalition report states that, “Given the clear data showing that legal representation is one of the most effective ways of reducing eviction judgments, MAHC strongly supports the newly announced partnership between Pine Tree Legal Assistance and MaineHousing to improve renters’ access to counsel in eviction cases, and sees it as one of the most powerful eviction prevention initiatives that has ever been undertaken in Maine.”

Pine Tree Legal Assistance is a nonprofit law firm that helps Mainers meet their basic needs and enforce their human rights by providing free civil legal assistance. Pine Tree helps more than 6,000 Maine households each year. More than half of their cases are related to housing issues. Mainers anywhere in the state facing eviction can contact Pine Tree by phone. More information is available on their website: https://www.ptla.org/contact-us

LD 1508 faces further votes in the Legislature.