As everyone by now knows, there’s a housing squeeze in Portland. Like Donald Trump with immigrants, we need a villain, and who better than a perennial favorite: the rapacious landlord?

In past years, it was the landlord who neglected apartments and tragedy followed. This year, it’s the opposite: landlords hoping to rehabilitate apartments before a tragedy. The latest example, “Libbytown evictions add to concerns about housing turnover in Portland” (March 2), focuses on a five-unit building managed by my nephew Mark McCain.

Ignoring for the moment that no legal evictions are currently taking place there, the article implies that property owners have a moral obligation to provide substandard housing at below-market rents.

Moralizers living in the comfort and safety of their own homes would be staggered by the level of squalor and neglect within many apartment buildings in Portland and throughout Maine today – together with energy-efficiency problems that only an oilman could love.

In an ideal world, those buildings would be torn down in a “Cash for Clunkers” program and rebuilt taller, with more apartments, safer apartments, more accessible apartments. Short of that, the interior spaces cannot be safely and efficiently renovated while people are living in the midst of demolition and construction work.

There are many villains in Portland’s housing crisis. For instance, outdated zoning rules prohibit in-law apartments in houses too large for most families. And political grandstanding is supplanting the civic leadership we need to push back against parochial opposition to new housing developments.

As for our existing housing stock, too many of Portland’s century-old apartments with life-threatening defects have been neglected for too long. That’s part of our crisis – not the owners seeking to rebuild them for another century of service.

Mark McCain

Portland