My colleagues and I on the City Council have been working diligently to identify, localize and implement innovative policies and best practice approaches that can affect the state of the housing market here in Portland. The council’s Housing Committee, which I have chaired for the past three years, has been focused on understanding these complex issues and getting projects in the pipeline to ensure the creation of more housing with units at all levels and price points. We recognize the need to ensure a supply of safe, inclusive, affordable housing that strengthens our community, bolsters our economy, diversifies our population and contributes to our residents’ quality of life.

Portland is a destination city recognized nationally and internationally. We’re the largest service center in Maine, providing employment, entertainment, shopping, dining, recreation and educational opportunities. Despite market obstacles (cost of materials and a labor shortage) and geographical limitations, Portland continues to create housing for all ages and income groups. While I’m proud of our record of producing permanently affordable housing, and especially the way in which we leverage our resources to make this housing production possible, I also know our work is not over.

When people see news reports or hear about new high-end projects being developed in Portland, it may be easy to think this is the only thing happening in our housing market. Some might then conclude that city officials are not aware of the housing crisis or have not focused enough on action. I assure you, nothing could be further from the truth.

Over the last few years, we’ve made significant investments utilizing funding from the federal Community Development Block Grant Program, the HOME Program and the locally funded Housing Trust Fund. The City Council allocated $280,000 in CDBG funding, over $1.7 million in housing trust funds and over $2 million in HOME funds to support the development of eight new rental housing projects. These funds are in play right now, supporting the creation of over 400 new units of housing in projects across the city – in East Deering, with the 37 Front St. project; the 977 Brighton Ave. project in Nason’s Corner; the 178 Kennebec St. project in Bayside; the Deering Place project in Parkside; the 66 State St. project in the West End; the 83 Middle St. project downtown, and in East Bayside with the 47 Boyd St. project. These projects stand to make a great impact in several Portland neighborhoods and the city overall when they come online.

Since 2000, the City Council has approved the allocation of over $13 million in block grant, HOME and local housing trust funds, which has leveraged the creation of over 1,300 affordable-housing units.

Directing these resources is but one way the city is working to make new housing production possible. Housing development that benefits Portland’s workforce and low-income earners is also possible because of regulatory changes embraced by the City Council. For example, Inclusionary Zoning, which requires workforce housing be constructed or contributed to as a portion of new market-rate housing development; Hotel Inclusionary Zoning, which requires new hotel projects to make affordable-housing contributions; amendments to the Downtown Height Overlay District to encourage additional residential development; adoption of residential density increases along major corridors; changes to the R-6/R-6A residential zone to allow for additional increased residential densities, including additional workforce housing requirements; increased density and dimensional allowances for affordable-housing projects, and reduced parking requirements are just some of the many recent initiatives undertaken to encourage additional and diverse housing creation. Significant changes to Portland’s accessory dwelling unit standards are also underway.

Progress on these initiatives has been reported in the city’s biennial housing reports, and we will continue to measure, report our progress and challenge ourselves to do more.

As Portland grows and thrives economically, it is important to ensure we remain a community that enables new workers, and longtime residents, to thrive in our beloved city. We have engaged input from experts and educators, to concerned stakeholders and developers, and we will continue to do so. We look forward to continuing to work together to address the housing needs in Portland.

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