The people who are living through Portland’s housing crisis got a chance Wednesday to say what they think should be the city’s highest priorities in addressing the lack of available and affordable places to live.

The Portland City Council’s Housing Committee, formed by Mayor Ethan Strimling soon after he was elected in November, held a forum at the University of Southern Maine’s Wishcamper Center to get help identifying the city’s greatest housing needs.

A diverse collection of residents, landlords and community leaders made up the 100 or so people who attended the event. They broke out into smaller group discussions, centered on a list of 135 suggestions the committee has received over the past several months ranging from rent control to regulations on medical marijuana growing operations.

“Which of these could have the highest value for dealing with Portland’s housing situation now?” Jack Kartez, emeritus professor at USM’s Muskie School of Public Service, asked the crowd to consider.

“We’ve got to, as a community, … be able to winnow this down to a working bundle,” he said.

No-cause evictions, which have been happening with increasing frequency in Portland as buildings sell and landlords renovate, was a common concern among the groups.

“Whether you’re a good or bad tenant, it makes no difference,” said Jim Devine, who lives on Congress Street and is an advocate for Homeless Voices for Justice.

He said he thinks rent control and having a moratorium on no-cause evictions should be priorities.

Jacqui Deveneau of Parkside agreed.

“That crisis of knocking people out of their houses to renovate is horrific,” she said.

But Jim Howard of North Deering, who owns apartment buildings in Portland and Westbrook, said further regulating landlords would lead to lower quality developments.

He believes everything possible should be done to encourage the creation of more units – the only way to reduce vacancy, other than having fewer people.

“Anything that pertains to building more housing is the most important,” he said.

Casey Gilbert, executive director of Portland Downtown, said that in particular she’d like to see the city speed up the process of approving and permitting housing projects.

“The quicker we get more housing in the city, the quicker we will see the supply and demand issue resolve itself,” she said.

Joey Brunelle, who lives in the West End, suggested an even faster way of increasing the housing stock – prohibiting short-term rentals.

“It’s outrageous that they have been taken out of the rental housing stock overnight,” he said about the units listed on sites like Airbnb.

Brunelle also believes the city should allow for greater density, another priority shared among the groups.

“That should have honestly been done yesterday,” he said.

 


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