Apartments line Wainwright Circle in Redbank Village in South Portland. Tenants in the complex say they’ve received notices that their rents are going up by hundreds of dollars. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

SOUTH PORTLAND — Community organizations and lawmakers are asking the city to put a temporary eviction moratorium in place for large property owners after the new out-of-state owner of Redbank Village, an affordable apartment complex, let its tenants know that their rents could increase by hundreds of dollars a month.

In a letter to the South Portland City Council dated Tuesday, the organizations and lawmakers asked for a six-month moratorium on evictions for nonpayment of rent increases, retroactive to April 1, for all owners of more than 200 rental units in the city except housing authorities and nonprofits bound by federal and state regulations to provide affordable housing.

“We’re recognizing that if we don’t act quickly, people could either be evicted or feel very housing insecure, even more so than they are now, very shortly,” said Rep. Victoria Morales, a South Portland Democrat who also serves as executive director of the Quality Housing Coalition, which works to ensure affordable, accessible housing for people in need.

Morales was one of 11 lawmakers from South Portland and Portland who signed the letter, along with representatives of 16 community organizations. The nonprofits and social justice groups include the Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, Preble Street and Community Housing of Maine.

“That urgent action was needed to allow the council to figure out a strategy and use their power of local control to kind of put a pause on things so families, students, seniors don’t feel so stressed about what may be happening,” Morales said. “It’s not a full solution, but it’s a temporary solution to allow for fact finding and to figure out what is the best policy right now for South Portland.”

South Portland officials said they are considering the request and are planning a workshop on rent stabilization in response to the rent increases at Redbank Village Apartments. The 500-unit community of townhomes and apartments located on the west side of the city off Westbrook Street was sold to JRK Property Holdings of Los Angeles in November.


Some tenants said last week that they have since been notified of monthly rent increases ranging from $200 to $600, depending on whether they sign new yearlong leases and how quickly they do so.

“What we have to find out is what we can do legally,” said South Portland City Councilor Susan Henderson. “I can’t give you specifics (on our next steps) but what I want to say is I think that what has happened by this company is an outrageous violation of human rights and human dignity.”


The council is planning to hold a workshop June 14 to discuss the possibility of some form of rent stabilization. The city’s legal counsel will be on vacation from the end of this month until the beginning of June, which is the reason for the June 14 date, City Manager Scott Morelli said.

“She is vital to any discussion as there are things that municipalities can and cannot do, and so we don’t want to give anyone false hope or expectations if what they want us to do is illegal, and if council does pursue some action, we want to make sure it is defensible,” Morelli said in an email.

Councilor Jocelyn Leighton, who requested the workshop at this week’s council meeting, said Thursday that details of how rent stabilization could be implemented are being worked out and will depend in part on what the city is legally allowed to do. Leighton said the council is also looking into the request for the temporary eviction moratorium.


“I’m hoping we can speak with Rep. Morales and (Rep. Chris Kessler) and see what we can do,” Leighton said. “We need to move that workshop from June 14 up and I will be asking to do that. If we can do this moratorium or a rent freeze or whatever we can do to give more time to renters to stall the rent increases, I’m definitely in support of and working towards.”

The letter to the council says a $400 rent increase at Redbank Village prompted the request for the temporary eviction moratorium but it also notes that South Portland is facing a “housing crisis unparalleled in its history.”

Morales said some Redbank Village renters have reported rent increases of $400 to the organizations that signed on to the letter, but she said increases at the complex may vary. The letter states that 48 households in Redbank Village use federal housing vouchers and “will face significant challenges paying their share of the rent increase.”

It’s unclear what the exact range of possible rent increases is, if all tenants have received notice of rent increases and what rents are right now at the apartment complex. A person who answered the phone at Redbank Village on Thursday referred questions to JRK’s office in Los Angeles, where a phone message and email seeking the aforementioned information were not returned.

Redbank Village was originally built as a federal public housing project in 1942. The complex has been privately owned since 1954 but continues to house low- to moderate-income families.



Last week, the city asked JRK to submit a summary of all the rent increases it has issued to tenants this year – and to include current and new rent amounts. It gave a Friday deadline and had not received the information as of Thursday, Morelli said. Under city ordinance, landlords are required to give tenants written notice 75 days prior to a rent increase, and the city has the authority to request such notices for inspection.

Apartment listings on the Redbank Village website Thursday included a $2,100 two-bedroom, a $2,479 three-bedroom and a $2,529 three-bedroom. One tenant told the Press Herald last week that she recently renewed the lease on her three-bedroom apartment for one year, agreeing to pay $2,001 per month, which is a $398 increase and does not include utilities. If she had waited until April 30 to renew, she said, the rent would have increased another $200.

Another tenant with three children said the rent on his three-bedroom apartment was expected to increase from $1,500 to $1,890, and that he was considering moving out of Maine.

Morales said the proposal for the temporary eviction moratorium is aimed at Redbank, though other large property owners could be impacted if they submitted rent increases after April 1. “But the idea is it’s temporary and it will allow the council time to figure out the right policy,” she said. “It’s not something intended to be put in place long term.”

The situation and the letter to the council were discussed Thursday at Portland’s Emergency Shelter Assessment Committee meeting, a collaborative of service providers, local and state government representatives, advocates and others interested in ensuring the safety and well-being of people in Portland.

Terence Miller, who was representing Preble Street at the meeting, said that what was happening at Redbank is the “tip of what we’re experiencing” with a housing crisis in Cumberland County. Preble Street provides social services to low-income and homeless people in Portland.


“I do think there might be a future opportunity for (the committee) to weigh in here as we see the situation unfold,” Miller said.

Several people at Tuesday’s South Portland council meeting also expressed concerns about the situation at Redbank and urged the council to act.


School board Chair Elyse Tipton, who said she was not speaking in an official capacity on behalf of the schools, told the council that the rent increases at Redbank Village are impacting many children. Tipton said one school principal told her that her staff are hearing students talk about the possibility of having to move and leave their friends and their school.

“What she said is she’s certain they’re hearing this from the adults in their homes and they’re experiencing with the adults the stress this is putting on families,” Tipton said. “I just thought, ‘My God, is that what we want to do to our young students? Put more stress on them this year?’ I don’t think so.”

Tipton said the situation is a crisis.

“Whatever you can do as quickly as you can do it, I ask you to please do so,” she said to the council.

One woman who identified herself using only her first name, Kayla, told the council she is a single mother of three children who works full-time and pays $1,529 per month for an apartment in Redbank Village. When she got home from work last Thursday, Kayla said, there was a notice on her door saying that if she didn’t sign a new lease by Sunday, her rent would go up to $2,143.

“I just can’t afford that,” Kayla said. “And I don’t know who else will rent to a single mother in a competitive environment like this. We’ll have to leave South Portland and I really like it here.”

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