The city of Portland on Monday announced the hiring of a new housing safety officer, a position created to oversee housing inspections after a tragic fire last year killed six young adults.

Art Howe, who owns Howe Safety Services, a safety and risk management company, will begin work on Sept. 28, according to a news release from the city. Howe has 37 years of experience in fire service, including five years as fire chief in Ipswich, Massachusetts, and 20 years as an inspector for the National Fire Protection Association, the release said.

“I’m very excited that Art is coming on board to help us establish the Housing Safety Office,” City Manager Jon Jennings said in a written statement. “He has the background and expertise to hit the ground running, and he shares my commitment to public safety through safe housing. The creation of this office has been a priority of mine since becoming city manager, and I look forward to seeing its progress in the coming months.”

Housing safety emerged as a major issue last November, after fire ripped through a two-family home on Noyes Street, killing six people. The property had been subject to several complaints over the years. Fire officials later said the property was being used as an unlicensed boarding house and required additional fire safety protections that were not present at the time of the fire.

Landlord Gregory Nisbet has been charged with manslaughter. He has pleaded not guilty to the charge.

The Maine Sunday Telegram found that the city’s housing inspection program was hampered by poor record-keeping, coordination among different departments and a lack of follow-up enforcement that allowed some violations to go unaddressed for months, if not years.


In June, the City Council approved the creation of a new Housing Safety Office that was recommended by the Fire/Code Inspections Task Force and whose inspectors will be cross-trained in fire and building codes.

The office is charged with implementing a risk-based process to prioritize inspections, conducting inspections, and managing the landlord registration ordinance, which will require landlords to pay $35 to register each unit they own beginning on Jan. 1.

The council is still considering a proposal that would discount those fees for landlords and properties that meet certain criteria.

Howe will earn $75,000 a year, according to City Hall Communications Director Jessica Grondin.

The costs of Howe’s salary and the new safety office – estimated to total $335,000 – will be paid for by the new fees paid by landlords.

Howe will eventually lead a department of three inspectors and an administrative assistant. He will report to the city manager.

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

Twitter: randybillings

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