The four candidates vying for an at-large seat on the Portland City Council in the Nov. 2 election have similar outlooks on prioritizing the city’s affordable and available housing shortage and the need to provide homeless services, but they differ on their approaches.

Travis Curran, who ran for mayor in 2019; Planning Board Chairman Brandon Mazer; School board member Roberto Rodriguez; and attorney Stuart Tisdale Jr. are running for the seat being vacated by Nick Mavodones, who has served on the council for close to 25 years.

Curran’s focus is on addressing housing, in part by enforcing the city’s cap on short-term rentals, he said, because those rentals take houses off the market.

The city has already capped Airbnb rentals and owner-occupied and investment property rentals,” Curran said. “There is very little watchdogging on the enforcement of those policies. We need to enforce those. We need those homes and we don’t need tiny hotels, and there are way more than the cap.”

Curran would also like to see zoning reform to allow more apartments and multi-family houses in suburban areas of the city, farther from downtown.

Mazer said the housing supply in the city must be increased. Changes can be made to allow more multi-unit housing projects, such as relaxing parking requirements and providing developers with incentives to build in ways that allow more density.

“We need to incentivize more family housing,” Mazer said. “We need to look at our core corridors, like Brighton Avenue, Forest Avenue, those corridors that are peninsula adjacent where there could be more density to alleviate peninsula pressure.”

The housing problem must be addressed, Rodriguez said, but he would rely on experts to address it.

“Us candidates don’t need to have the idea or the plan that is going to fix our issues. There are a lot of really good proposals, and people doing this work in the city and state,” Rodriguez said.

Tisdale also said housing solutions are best left to experts, but contends that those efforts need to focus on the middle-class.

“If the teachers who teach the young people in a community can’t afford to live in it, I disagree with that,” he said. “You have those that are helped to find housing by the housing authority, which helps qualifying people, and then you have the people who live in the luxury condos, but you don’t have a middle population.”

The candidates differ on whether the 200-bed homeless services center planned for the Riverton area or smaller shelters would be best for the city.

Curran, who said he has experienced homelessness in the past, said the large shelter was a start but smaller shelters are also needed.

“Ithere’s a problem in a shelter you can get hit with criminal trespass, and you’re not allowed in for a full year,” Curran said. “Maine winters are rough. If there is one facility, and you get hit with that, what then?”

A large facility assures good quality services, Mazer said, while the city may have trouble staffing numerous small shelters.

“To have four or five emergency shelters providing the services that the shelter on Riverside will provide will be difficult from a staffing and funding perspective,” Mazer said. “From that viewpoint, I think a centralized shelter that can be open 24/7 with services on site makes more sense.”

Rodriguez, too, focused on quality as opposed to size.

We need that expectation of that centralized goal, which means high-quality services to our unhoused community members,” Rodriguez said.

Tisdale said he supports the large shelter over small facilities “if there must be a shelter,” noting numerous shelters in neighborhoods would be “impossible” to pass as a council.

At the same time, Tisdale would like to see proposals to reduce the number of “panhandlers” in the city, particularly those who may be able to work.

“The proliferation of panhandling … makes a bad impression,” Tisdale said. “There’s no need for it. Businesses around can’t find enough people to work, social services are ample. When panhandlers are in front of a business, it discourages people from going in the business. It‘s enabling a group of people that are not being helped by being enabled.”

The candidates also cite a number of other priorities.

Curran said he would like to see a local option sales taxes for tourist-based services to alleviate property tax, such as cruises; more work done in harm reduction to combat the opioid epidemic, such as safe injection sites; the expansion of public transportation at night; and an increase in the number of municipal parking lots.

Mazer said he also would like to focus on improving public transit opportunities.

Rodriguez stressed collaboration and representing all his constituents. He would focus his efforts on bringing in marginalized groups, whose opinions might otherwise be overlooked, to speak at council meetings. He cited as an example a vocal group of advocates who wanted to remove police officers from schools and succeeded in doing so.

If I see there is a handful of privileged folks advocating for something, I have to question who is not in the room and who we are not hearing advocacy for,” Rodriguez said. “What we lack is the political will to carry these things forward.”

Tisdale said his focus would also be on collaboration. He said there has been a lack of moderate voices in the city, and though he is an “embarrassed Republican” following the Trump presidency, he would often vote across party lines, he said.

The election takes place Nov. 2. Polling locations, which can be found online on the city clerk’s website, open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m.

For more information about the election, including how to request an absentee ballot, visit portlandmaine.gov/1116/November-Municipal-Election.

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