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In recent years, Maine’s shortage of affordable and workforce housing has gotten even more challenging as real estate values have soared. Victoria Morales created partnerships between landlords and nonprofit agencies to help house individuals that have experienced homelessness and or housing insecurity. Morales started the Quality Housing Coalition in 2018. She also served as a state representative from 2018 to 2022, representing South Portland. In her time in the Legislature she helped write and pass 16 state laws focused on housing and family safety.
Mainebiz: What was it like to start the organization from scratch?
Victoria Morales: This is really exciting work and everyone was so excited about the opportunity to do this work which gave us more energy to get going.
MB: What do you believe was missing that you were trying to address by starting the program?
VM: The biggest piece is that there are many barriers put in place for lower-income tenants who can’t even get through the application process. We work closely with our founding board members, who are for-profit and non-profit housing providers, to figure out what we need to be sure that tenants can be successful. We found that we need to ensure that rent is being paid and that tenants have the support they need.
MB: What kind of housing have you provided?
VM: Over the past six years, with 38 landlord partners in five counties, we have provided over 600 households for approximately 1,400 adults and children, all of whom would have been screened out of the application process for each one of the units. We have been able to provide them with stable housing. Around 99% of them have been successful in that they’ve completed that year long lease.
MB: How have you been a mentor to your staff?
VM: It means everything to me to have an inclusive workplace culture understanding and that truly tries to develop the skills and talent of each of our staff members; it is critically important to me as the leader of Quality House Coalition. It is a testament to how effective our services are that we invest heavily in our staff as best as we can to make sure they are doing well. We always try to be there for our residents, landlords or property managers.
MB: You have also been involved in immigration work.
VM: The pro bono immigration work I did for the Immigration Legal Advocacy Project representing clients through the asylum application, hearings and trial processes. During this time, I worked at Thompson & Bowie LLP handling state and local government litigation cases. It was an interesting time working within local systems, state systems and federal immigration systems. I learned a tremendous amount about how challenging it is for lower-income earners to survive and thrive, given the many barriers to success facing them in each system.
MB: From your work as a state rep, what were some of the laws you were most proud of?
VM: That’s a tough one because there are so many. When I started, there was no committee of the legislature with the word ‘housing’ in it; my goal from the beginning was to highlight the very serious issues we were facing in 2018, which I knew from the work I was doing. I am an attorney and had previously been with the city of Portland and MaineDOT to look at land use, transportation and housing but understood the extreme lack of affordable housing. With the Housing Coalition taking off, I knew that we needed to focus on housing and the housing insecurities of Maine workers and families. I created a housing legislative group where we discussed housing issues across the state. We formed a plan and came up with policies that were bipartisan and statewide to increase our budget for housing initiatives. We have seen a rise in budget every year, with this year being the highest of $100 million.
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