PORTLAND – In 1996, I hitchhiked into Maine and found my way to Portland. Since leaving home at 15, I had been wandering around the country, moving every couple of years, sometimes couch-surfing, sometimes living on the streets. I was looking for a place to put down roots and be part of a community.

Portland gets high marks for livability and back then I agreed with that. Livability, in large part, means affordability, and it was very affordable. You could pay the rent with a full-time job, have money for food, go to a show and maybe even have some left for savings. I loved being close to nature and taking part in the vibrant cultural scene. Portland had a seamless mix of working people, artists, and ne’er-do-wells like myself.

It was a very cool place. It still is. Just like other cool places I’ve been and lived – Austin, Seattle, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Athens, Ga. – people want to come here and be part of that scene.

Nowadays, the rents and taxes are sky high, even though the wages are about the same as they were then. Many good friends were priced out and forced to move away.

A lot of places went condo and some were simply torn down. People are beyond stressed out, working multiple jobs to cover the rents in the fourth oldest housing stock in the nation, with outrageous heating bills to boot.

That’s if you can even get an apartment. You need good credit and almost a couple thousand dollars to even get into a place now. The result of this lack of affordable housing is a lot more homeless people on the streets downtown, higher crime, and a general and growing discontent, as evidenced in the Occupy movement.

Rather than give a tax break to some fat cats, for “economic development” that is only going to create more low-wage jobs that you need three of to get by, let’s give a tax break to the development and housing of our people. After all, that’s the job Portland government should be in – serving its people.

We need to build 1,000 units of simple, affordable housing. Places you can afford without a subsidy. We can build these six stories tall, downtown, with storefronts on the ground level, particularly in Bayside. This will create a sustainable, growing tax base of people who will work and shop downtown every day so we can achieve an economy of scale.

We’re missing the opportunity to add to our population every passing day until we address this. Housing the work force that will attract business creates jobs and real economic development. This is a win-win situation. Also, we can require a developer who takes a tax break to build housing to hire Portlanders first and at living wages.

We’ll have a building boom, from which everybody benefits, not just the already rich who are getting richer as the wild economic disparity in this country grows.

People also desperately need health care. The lack of affordable health care stymies job creation and growth. Portland small businesses want to add good-paying jobs to the payroll, but since they know they can’t also afford the health care benefits that will attract talented people, they hold off. We need to organize Portland small businesses into health care co-ops to participate in the Affordable Healthcare Act exchange when it comes on-line in 2014.

Meanwhile, there is an underutilized voucher program available through Dirigo Health Care, right now, to give full coverage to part-time workers with as little as a 5 percent contribution from their employers. Our mayor needs to be dedicated to finding affordable health care for small businesses and individuals in Portland.

Let’s be real, I’m not going to be the mayor, not this time anyway. That’s why I’m supporting Ethan Strimling. He can actually win, he also sees the need for these things to happen and he has the skill set to make them a reality. I ask you to vote me first because I represent your values and vote him second because he can get it done.

Let’s get moving into a great future for Portland and let’s not leave anyone behind and out in the cold.

We’re a big, beautiful, close-knit family where the best of us are only as well off as the least of us. Thanks to all my fellow candidates who have run to share a vision for our beloved city.

Good luck on Election Day. Good luck to us all.

– Special to The Press Herald