A newly formed group of Portland tenants, residents, social service providers and housing advocates called on the city Thursday night to immediately enact a moratorium on no-cause evictions by landlords.

The Portland Coalition for Housing Justice announced that it plans to go before the City Council’s Housing Committee on April 27 with a list of demands that includes the measure to prevent the displacement of tenants who rent from month to month and pay their rent on time.

“Our concern is that these evictions are targeting the city’s most vulnerable and its poorest tenants,” said Jan Bindas-Tenney, advocacy coordinator for Preble Street and a member of the coalition.

The organization, which includes Preble Street, Homeless Voices for Justice, the Opportunity Alliance, the Portland Tenants Union, Shalom House and Catholic Charities, says recent no-cause evictions have affected about 100 units of affordable housing.

“The most vulnerable, low-income, formerly chronically homeless tenants with serious medical and mental health conditions,” are the most affected, the coalition said in flier that was distributed at a meeting Thursday. “This is a horrific crisis that affects 100 people and their families. And these are only the evictions that we know about.”

Spurred by the housing crisis, the group called an “emergency meeting” for the Parkside Neighborhood Center on Thursday night, and about 100 people packed into a small meeting room to share their eviction stories while Portland’s mayor and three city councilors listened.

“This is a crisis because more than 100 people and their families have lost their homes,” said Dee Clarke of Homeless Voices for Justice. “If the city of Portland wants to remain a diverse community, then it needs to take care of its low-income residents.”

A MARKET SOME CAN’T AFFORD

Evictions have been happening throughout the city’s rental neighborhoods as a shortage of housing has pushed up rents and created a market for investors to buy and refurbish old or neglected apartment buildings.

Pine Tree Legal Assistance said it handled over 1,200 disputed eviction cases in Portland in 2015, more than the normal amount.

A Maine Sunday Telegram/Portland Press Herald special report “Welcome to Portland: No Vacancy,” found that market rents in the city had increased 40 percent in the past five years and that low-income renters are facing evictions and rent increases as the hot market fuels the construction of high-end apartments and condos.

That has tossed many low-income individuals and their families into a housing market that is way above what they can afford.

Clarke said the coalition plans to bring six demands to the City Council Housing Committee’s next meeting. In addition to enacting a moratorium on no-cause evictions, Clarke said the coalition will ask the City Council to consider an immediate freeze or significant limitation on rent increases, to enact a ban on discrimination against people who hold government housing vouchers, and to make amendments to the city’s housing replacement ordinance that would ensure that affordably priced housing is not lost to luxury housing.

The coalition also wants to raise the General Assistance rent cap to reflect the cost of market housing and it wants the city to fully fund the Tenant Based Rental Assistance program to prevent low-income people from being evicted for temporary lack of payment.

The Housing Committee, which consists of five councilors, can only make recommendations to the nine-member council.

Councilor Spencer Thibodeau, who represents the Parkside neighborhood, said he “supports a lot of these demands,” but cautioned the crowd of about 100 people at the Parkside Neighborhood Center about taking rash actions that might be more harmful than helpful to those at risk of being evicted.

“We will look at the list (of demands), but I’m not sure they will keep people in their homes,” Thibodeau said.

‘CHANGE IS GOING TO TAKE TIME’

Mayor Ethan Strimling said the eviction of tenants from a 24-unit apartment building at 61-69 Grant St. in February served as a “wake-up” call for the city. Most of the tenants who were evicted were low-income or mentally disabled.

Strimling told the audience that there are “forces” at work in Portland that don’t want to see changes in the way the city regulates housing.

“We have to keep hearing the stories about you getting evicted because change is going to take time,” Strimling said.

Debra Priest was among those tenants evicted from Grant Street. She is currently homeless.

“I’m almost 59 years old and I have nothing,” Priest said. “I have to start all over again.”

Vichelle Bonner had been living in an apartment on Grant Street since 2008, but was evicted for no cause by an out-of-state landlord.

“They (landlords) need to go back to where they came from and leave us alone,” Bonner said.

Margaret Lamy has lived in a shelter since 2013, saying landlords won’t accept her government housing voucher.

“I don’t know how anyone with a limited income can live in this city,” she said.

“All of us have been hurt by these evictions,” the coalition said in its flier. “People we’ve known for years who have cancer, who are disabled, who are formerly chronically homeless and on a path to stability and recovery face the prospect of being forced into homelessness, to a life of sickness, instability and indignity.”

The coalition said one man who was living in an apartment on Cumberland Avenue was evicted last week for no cause. The man, who is in a wheelchair, is living in a shelter.

“This doesn’t make human or fiscal sense.”