I am part of a writing group that meets once a month. We often gather at the apartment of one of our members, on the East End. His place is not fancy or large, perhaps cleaner than most apartments shared by a couple of bachelors. We like it because it feels warm, the shelves are lined with good books and the view is spectacular.

Last week he told us it would be our last meeting there. He and his roommate have to be out by Jan. 1. Another bathroom will be added, the kitchen no doubt upgraded with stainless and quartz. Hopefully the landlord will keep the old plaster trim and wooden floors. The rent will go up threefold, maybe more. My friend has begun his search for another place, outside the city.

When we started our group four years ago, all of us lived in Portland. Come April, when one of our other members will put her condo on the market, I’ll be the last of our group of six with a home in the city. I don’t want to suggest that everyone’s move is because of the high rents. Some wanted more space, others for work. But high rents made their decisions easy. Many of the changes that Portland has seen over the years are positive. As a landlord myself, I have no desire to return to a time when dilapidated housing stock was the norm and not the exception.

A few months back I was enjoying a beer where one of my previous tenants bartends. We quickly got on the topic of rents and, as if repeating a line I had fed him over the years, he referenced the landlord’s often-used defense of high property taxes as a reason for high rents. Taxes are high, as are construction and other costs. I respected his openness and understanding of the other side of the rent equation. Profit is necessary for the upkeep of the housing stock. Yet, I wondered aloud if we had moved from profit to greed. He backed up from where he was pouring a beer, shook my hand across the bar and asked if he could buy my beer.

I remain proud of Portland, excited that our city has become a place where people want to live. I remember the time, not too many years ago, when a landlord couldn’t get anyone to show up to see a clean, refinished and affordable apartment on the peninsula. Many, perhaps most, Portland landlords have worked hard to improve the quality of housing, navigate sky-high construction costs and take good care of their tenants. For the most part we have also benefited financially.

Today, Portland is a good place with great restaurants, theaters and music venues. Landmarks and city officials have done a respectable job, often against the wishes of developers, of preserving the character and history of our buildings. Yet, clichéd as it may sound, it is the people who make Portland vibrate with energy: the line cooks, social workers, waitresses, small shop owners, artists, musicians, fishermen, plumbers, painters, teachers and entrepreneurs. These are the people who have done so much for Portland and are now being pushed out, unable to sacrifice half their income or more for the monthly rent. This is not good for Portland.

If we become singularly a place for retirees and out-of-state owners of second homes, Portland will slowly go quiet, the color will fade, the food will turn bland. Perhaps Becky Rand will even raise the price of that hefty lobster on her menu.

So I have a suggestion, and if any landlords are still with me, I hope you’ll hear me out. Rent control didn’t pass and that’s probably a good thing. Yet, how about for 2020 we choose to forgo rent increases on residential apartments and single-family homes? And, thereafter, we keep increases indexed to inflation, at least for tenants in good standing who remain in our buildings year after year? No overregulated ordinances or city rules, just a bunch of us landlords doing the right thing. I promise you, if we can keep these interesting, hardworking and kind folks from leaving our city, it will benefit all of us, and the bottom line.


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