The proliferation of short-term rentals and sober houses was among the concerns expressed by some neighborhood leaders who were invited to testify before a city committee charged with addressing Portland’s housing crunch.

Representatives from 14 neighborhood organizations read brief statements Wednesday to the City Council’s Housing Committee at King Middle School. The five-member committee is looking for ways to address a housing shortage in the city that is driving up rents. In the past few years, the city has experienced a rapid addition of market-rate and luxury residential developments, causing fears among existing residents that they will be priced out of the city.

Housing has emerged as a hot topic in Portland and was the subject of a Maine Sunday Telegram/Portland Press Herald special report, “Welcome to Portland: No Vacancy.” Several panel discussions have been held on the city’s housing policies. And this week, a new coalition to advocate for low-income people formed, called the Portland Coalition of Housing Justice. It includes social service providers, such as Shalom House and Preble Street, as well as the Pine Tree Legal Clinic. The group will meet Thursday at 6 p.m. at 85 Grant St.

On Wednesday, while most neighborhood leaders expressed concerns about rising housing costs and rapidly changing neighborhoods, leaders on the east and west ends of the peninsula asked the city to consider regulating short-term rentals, such as those arranged through Airbnb, which is reducing the amount of available housing.

Linda Bancroft spoke on behalf of the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization. She said the number of short-term rentals being advertised on Airbnb was “quite astounding,” as more property owners realize they can make better money by renting their units to tourists, rather than residents.

“There should be better regulations of Airbnb to discourage full-time use of this (short-term) rental,” Bancroft said. She also said recent zoning changes allowing increased density on the hill have caused “a feeding frenzy” among developers.

Anne Pringle, president of the Western Promenade Neighborhood Association, said short-term rentals were an issue on the West End as well. Pringle also noted the rise in her neighborhood of both nonprofit and for-profit sober houses, places people go to overcome their addictions. Saying the facilities are taking up housing for residents, she encouraged the city to take a hard look at the number of sober houses, where they’re located and whether they should be regulated.

Representatives of Libbytown and East Deering, meanwhile, said it was more affordable to buy a house rather than rent and asked that the city look for ways keep it that way.

Cheryl Leeman, a former longtime city councilor and East Deering resident, asked the city to be sensitive to existing neighborhood development patterns and only increase density along transportation corridors so as not to disrupt the existing character.

“There’s a huge amount of pride in our neighborhood,” Leeman said. “They like the quality of life and the schools. There’s little they don’t like about the neighborhood. They don’t want to see that jeopardized.”

Several neighborhood leaders also asked the committee to look at policies that would allow older residents to age in place, rather than being forced to sell their homes. Some suggested the city look to encourage homeownership and provide incentives for landlords to repair their buildings.

 


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