SOUTH PORTLAND — A call for rent control from the recently formed South Portland Tenants Association prompted the City Council to move Monday night toward setting up a task force to address the city’s tight and expensive rental market.

Councilors noted that the increasingly competitive rental market in Portland is putting pressure on surrounding communities, including South Portland.

Mayor Tom Blake, who is a landlord, said he gets calls daily from prospective tenants and never has a vacancy for long.

“The Greater Portland area is very, very popular,” Blake said. “It’s on fire.”

Councilors said the task force should be made up of renters, landlords and other stakeholders who would investigate the problem and recommend solutions, including opportunities for affordable housing development. The council directed City Manager Jim Gailey to develop a proposal for the task force and present it for consideration at a future workshop.

Councilors differed in their views of rent control or stabilization. Neither concept was explained during the meeting.

“I do not think this town is ready for rent control,” said Councilor Claude Morgan.

Councilor Brad Fox said, “We definitely need rent stabilization to prevent what I consider gouging.”

Chris Kessler, a founder of the tenants association, presented information about the current state of the rental market in South Portland as a precursor for future consideration of a rent control proposal that he’s developing.

Kessler noted that more than 40 percent of South Portland’s housing units are rentals, according to the U.S. Census. He said the average price for a two-bedroom apartment in South Portland is about $1,350 per month, based on recent craigslist.com listings.

And the South Portland Housing Authority has a waiting list for subsidized apartments that is two to five years long, Kessler said.

“We need the City Council to intervene,” Kessler said.

Brit Vitalius, president of the Southern Maine Landlord Association, was one of several audience members who spoke against rent control.

“Rent control is a very blunt tool,” Vitalius said, urging the council to focus on promoting housing development to increase the supply, rather than restrict market forces.

 


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