The Portland City Council will consider financial incentives for owners to convert short-term rentals into long-term housing units, as the pandemic has forced the closure of most tourist lodging and raised new concerns about housing stability.

City officials postponed a workshop and meeting scheduled for Monday because of the potential for power outages during a gusty coastal storm. Those virtual events will instead be held Tuesday.

The agenda includes two amendments from Councilor Kim Cook, who previously submitted the proposal to ban AirBnbs and other short-term rentals as part of the city’s stay-at-home order. The City Council unanimously approved that amendment to the order March 30. Portland has nearly 800 registered short term rentals.

One proposal would allow the owners of short-term rentals to get a refund on their registration fees if they lease the unit to a tenant for at least one year. Portland has a structured fee system for those short term rentals that starts at $100, but owners with multiple properties could spend thousands of dollars.

The second proposal would also give the owners of short-term rentals an additional $1,000 payment if they sign a lease of at least one year with a tenant who is using General Assistance or a Section 8 housing voucher. That money would come from the city’s Housing Trust Fund.

Cook said she thought those amendments could help both property owners and renters. She called it a “win-win.”

“It was to give them the opportunity to get that fee back if they so choose to convert the long-term rental and open up a housing unit for people who live in Portland, but also to help the property owner because they aren’t earning money right now from the short-term rental,” Cook said.

Portland has been struggling for years with a tight supply of rental housing that has pushed rents higher and forced some workers to move out of the city. The conversion of hundreds of year-round housing units into more lucrative short-term rentals has contributed to the shortage.

Rental housing for low-income tenants or people relying on public assistance is seen as an especially high priority now as renters face financial pressures caused by the coronavirus crisis.

The City Council will consider other changes to the stay-at-home order, and in particular, the list of essential businesses during the pandemic. The city and the state adopted lists that are slightly different and have conflicted at certain points. For example, the state has deemed real estate agencies to be essential businesses, but the city has not.

The councilors discussed those two lists at their last meeting but asked for more information before voting on an amendment that would adopt the state’s version over the city’s.

Like other cities and towns, Portland is holding its public meetings online using Zoom, a video conference platform that allows citizens to watch the discussions and, on certain subjects, ask questions or provide feedback. However, because loss of power in parts of the city would eliminate access to the meeting, the city decided to postpone.

To join the meetings on Tuesday, download the free Zoom app and click the link: https://zoom.us/j/635623968

More information about the meetings and how to participate can be found at portlandmaine.gov. 


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