SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council voted Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning to renew the operating licenses of four hotels that have housed hundreds of asylum seekers and Mainers experiencing homelessness since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

City Manager Scott Morelli urged councilors to renew the licenses of the Comfort Inn, Days Inn, Howard Johnson and Quality Inn with conditions meant to ensure that they continue to work to reduce calls for police and other emergency services in the coming months.

Councilors renewed all four licenses in a meeting that lasted well past midnight, ultimately deciding to impose conditions on three of the hotels.

“We want the hotels to continue to operate,” Morelli said. “The issue is the number of calls.”

Under the recommended conditions, if emergency calls haven’t decreased to a “satisfactory” level by Sept. 1, or if calls increase within 90 days, the hotel owners would have to return to the council for a suspension/revocation hearing. They also would have to provide translation and other assistance onsite weekdays if they house asylum seekers, and 24-hour security if they house other Mainers experiencing homelessness.

The council voted 5-0 to renew licenses for the Comfort Inn and Days Inn with conditions requiring the hotels’ owner to provide guest support and security; and for Howard Johnson with conditions to provide translation, medical and other assistance for guests who are asylum seekers.


But councilors rejected the recommended conditions regarding the number of emergency calls as being vague and unrealistic amid a housing shortage and an immigration crisis.

“We should not put any conditions on these licenses,” said Mayor Deqa Dhalac, whose council district includes the Comfort Inn, Days Inn and Howard Johnson.

The council also unanimously renewed the license for the Quality Inn, but included no conditions because that hotel’s owners and managers have proven to be exceptionally responsive to the city’s concerns and have established a system to provide a wide variety of services to asylum seekers staying there, said Councilor Misha Pride, who ran Tuesday’s meeting so Dhalac could observe requirements of Ramadan.

The city of Portland has been using the four hotels to house overflow from its Oxford Street and Family shelters, including asylum seekers and homeless people. Days Inn and Comfort Inn together have been housing about 280 people, primarily homeless individuals, while Quality Inn and Howard Johnson have been housing about 198 families.

At the Comfort Inn, calls for police, fire and other emergency services increased from an average of 2.6 calls per month before the COVID-19 pandemic started in March 2020 to an average of 45.5 calls per month in the last year, Morelli said Tuesday night.

Emergency service calls during the same period also increased at Days Inn, from 6.6 to 32.3 per month; Quality Inn, from 4.4 to 17.2 per month; and Howard Johnson, from 5.8 to 13.6 per month. Calls for police service included well-being checks, thefts, assaults, domestic disputes, missing persons, drug and alcohol violations, and suicide threats.


The four hotels have “an UNACCEPTABLE & UNSUSTAINABLE level of calls for service,” Morelli wrote in a March 3 letter to hotel owners. “This means your call volumes have at least doubled when compared to pre-pandemic levels, are in the double digits per month, and are at or exceed 0.5 calls per day.”

Scrutiny of the four hotels comes as Portland continues to accommodate high numbers of people in need and officials there are concerned about how they will continue to meet that need. Last week, Portland was using 12 hotels across six communities to shelter 1,594 asylum seekers and homeless Mainers.

Three of the hotels – Comfort Inn, Days Inn and Howard Johnson – are part of a locally owned group, New Gen Hospitality Management. The fourth, Quality Inn, is operated by New England Hospitality, a New Hampshire-based hotel group.

The review of hotel licenses follows a Feb. 28 Zoom meeting that Morelli held with residents, business owners and others to address public safety concerns related to the hotels. Many participants attributed problems to indigent people experiencing homelessness rather than families seeking asylum.

During that meeting, Suresh Gali, head of New Gen, said he planned to stop hosting indigent people experiencing homelessness at the Days Inn and Comfort Inn after a contract with MaineHousing runs out May 31.

Paul Weinstein, New Gen’s attorney, urged councilors Tuesday night to consider the hotels’ past low calls for service and recent efforts to address the increase. He said renewing the hotels’ licenses with conditions would “unduly stigmatize these businesses.”

Police Chief Dan Ahern praised New Gen’s efforts so far, but he stressed that his department cannot continue to answer high numbers of calls. He said making the hotels’ licenses conditional would help to ensure future compliance.

“There has to be communication,” Ahern said. “It has to be a cooperative effort.”

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