We are Munjoy Hill residents who love life in Portland, and we support the construction of housing to meet the needs of Portland residents. We write on behalf of ourselves, Kris Minister and Berry Manter.

We applaud housing that supports a healthy and diverse population, living more comfortably, securely and sustainably than we were living 10 years ago. We support policies that put a priority on housing Portland’s most vulnerable residents and that protect the quality of life for longtime residents, particularly those on fixed incomes.

We do not support housing development that hollows out neighborhoods by ratcheting up property values so rapidly that longtime residents are forced out. The coming revaluation is certain to affect the ability of many to remain on the Hill. Revaluation will certainly cause rents to skyrocket again. The city has enabled this with zoning that maximizes available profit on every lot, knowing investors understandably demand that maximum profit.

We do not support housing development that uses workarounds to evade zoning designed to enhance our neighborhoods. An example of such a workaround is a recent proposal to put a planter on an 8-foot wall around the perimeter of a proposed new building on Munjoy Hill. The intent is to measure ground level and building height from the top of the planter. If the Portland Planning Board allows this, will we see this used in every neighborhood?

We believe the city can and must do better. We are fortunate to live in a community with engaged citizens, as well as representative government that, for the most part, takes our phone calls and answers our emails. We appreciate everyone’s hard work.

But Portland needs a new vision for developing housing. We urge the City Council and staff to look at innovative policies in use elsewhere and do the following:

• Eliminate exclusionary single-family and large lot zones. This doesn’t mean builders can’t build single-family homes; it does mean that multifamily housing can mix with single-family neighbors anywhere in the city. It is no longer possible to build moderate-cost housing on the peninsula because of land costs.

• Establish a revolving loan fund, with a bond issue and payments from affordable-housing fees, and make it available to talented local small-scale developers, who cannot make a moderate-priced project fly without the kind of support now going exclusively to big nonprofits. Create a mansion tax for high-value residential units and devote that to the fund.

• Free up city land off-peninsula to sell at low cost to private developers to make this housing happen. Discourage single-family housing on these plots, and discourage housing that puts mothers several stories above the streets in which their children are playing. Portland Housing Authority has done this beautifully.

• Create housing development zones to encourage “complete neighborhoods” in less dense parts of the city, with small-business zones, conservation land for recreation and public transit.

• Restrict Airbnbs to owner-occupied buildings or units.

Each of us has a responsibility to help make this happen by asking mayoral and City Council candidates where they stand on housing policy, and by supporting elected officials who take courageous stands to make changes like those listed above.

 


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