During a recent meeting addressing housing security, City Councilor Spencer Thibodeau stated, “We are not the Affordable Housing Committee; we are the Housing Committee.”

This statement preceded dozens of Portland residents sharing stories of struggle to secure safe, affordable places to live. They showed up to recount their experiences as tenants, only to encounter councilors’ and corporation counsel’s apparent bias toward the concerns of landlords and market demands.

Throughout testimony given by landlords and employees of property management companies, there was a nearly pervasive characterization of tenants as problems to be managed, while owners were cast as just trying to get a fair return.

There were comments that lacked compassion for people living with addiction, while also anecdotally painting the majority of low-income tenants in Portland as drug users and disruptive renters. Portland’s housing crisis demands solutions, and not ones pitting small property owners against tenants.

The truth is that profitable management companies are behind the slew of recent mass evictions, so they can hike rents on once-affordable units, resulting in the displacement of tenants who never violated lease agreements. The truth is that people with housing vouchers routinely face discrimination, despite the Maine Human Rights Act.

We need city leaders to create policies that deal with the nuanced interaction of state and municipal rental laws, while centering on the well-being of people struggling to secure safe homes.

This is possible, and it is the right of every resident in this city to have councilors work collaboratively to solve these problems. We cannot accept homelessness and displacement of poor people and immigrants as a given.

This housing crisis is not merely economic, but also one of public health and the public spirit. With whom will city councilors cast their lot, and how will the rest of us respond?

Cait Vaughan