As a candidate for the at-large seat on the Portland City Council, I have had a lot of conversations with Portland residents lately. The two issues that come up most often are the skyrocketing cost of rent, and ever-increasing burden of property taxes.

I have been both a renter and a property owner in Portland. As a young renter, I saw firsthand the negative effects of rapidly rising rents. Many of my friends worked in retail or in one of Portland’s many popular restaurants.

As rents went up year after year – sometimes by as much as 25 percent at once – they were forced to take up second jobs or relocate to Westbrook, Biddeford and more affordable communities with fewer career opportunities.

We must do more to address the issue of skyrocketing rents; this November, Portland voters will likely decide whether to begin a program of rent stabilization, and that’s an effort I fully support. But we shouldn’t ignore the flip side of the housing affordability coin: ever-rising property taxes.

Now as a property owner and as a candidate for City Council, I have come to understand how the burden of property taxes is having a similar negative effect on our seniors and retirees.

In the last few months I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with many of these people on their doorsteps. I’ve met people who have spent their whole lives in Portland and raised their families here. Some of them are seriously considering moving to the suburbs because they increasingly can’t afford their property tax bills. One person told me they couldn’t vote for me because they were moving this summer.


These are people who have thoroughly paid their dues to society and served our community, and yet they feel that our city has forgotten about their needs by raising their property taxes by 2.5 percent or more, year after year.

It’s just not fair that lifelong Portlanders are being forced to relocate as a limitless supply of new luxury housing on the Peninsula is snapped up as second homes for people from out of state.

You can trace the plight of renters and the plight of property taxpayers to the same problem: income inequality. In the same way that stagnant wages and student loans have made rental housing less affordable for young people, stagnant wages, disappearing pensions and meager Social Security benefits have made housing less affordable for our seniors. Both are progressive issues.

Last year, together with many affordable housing advocates, I encouraged the Portland City Council to pass meaningful protections for renters. In the end, no significant protections were passed. Similarly, this year there has been some talk of the burden of property taxes, but I have yet to see any proposals. The time for talk has passed; the people of Portland want to see solutions.

You don’t have to look far for a program we could emulate: Just go eight miles south to Scarborough. There, residents have had a highly successful targeted tax relief program for years.

Here’s how it works: If you’re over 62 years old, you’ve lived in town for at least 10 years and your household’s annual gross income is less than $50,000, you can apply for tax relief. The town will then write you a check for the amount that your property tax bill exceeds 5 percent of your income up to a maximum of $500.


It’s that simple.

They also designed the application process to be exceedingly easy to navigate: The application itself is just a single page, available on the town’s website.

You print it out, bring it to the town hall and they tell you on the spot whether you qualify for tax relief.

It’s so easy that I was told that the tax assessors are some of the most popular people in Scarborough.

There is absolutely no reason why the city of Portland can’t pursue a similar program, and – if elected to the City Council in November – I intend to work with residents and councilors to do just that.

The diversity of our residents is our strength, and that extends from the 20-something working in an Old Port restaurant to the retired 70-something living in Stroudwater. We have a duty to help them both. There are ways to make housing more affordable for renters and there are ways to keep housing affordable for seniors. The first step is acknowledging these problems, but then we must seriously explore solutions and take action.

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