Organizers behind five citizen-initiated referendum questions in Portland, including one that would raise the minimum wage to $18 per hour by 2025, have gathered enough signatures to get their proposals on the November ballot.

Four of the referendums are being brought forward by the Maine chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America’s Livable Portland campaign. In addition to raising the minimum wage, the group is seeking to strengthen protections for tenants, reduce the number of short-term rentals and put restrictions on cruise ships coming into the city.

“The industry and culture that are causing so many to flock to Portland depends on the labor of the city’s vibrant working and renting class,” Wes Pelletier, the campaign chair, said in a statement Tuesday. “Our communities are being threatened by landlords making record profits off of an affordable housing crisis, wages being outpaced by inflation, and climate change and congestion pulverizing our waterfront. Portland is on track to become unlivable, but we’re organizing to correct that course.”

A fifth referendum brought forward by organizer Scott Ferris aims to regulate short-term rentals by prohibiting corporate owners and non-local operators from registering short-term rentals in the city, prohibiting evictions for the purpose of immediate conversion to short-term rentals and increasing penalties for violations of existing short-term rental regulations.

Organizers gathered at least 1,500 valid signatures from registered city voters for each proposal to make the Nov. 8 ballot. The City Council will now vote to approve putting each measure on the ballot, vote to adopt the measure itself or vote to add competing measures to the ballot.

Maine DSA’s campaign comes two years after the group led a successful push to pass an earlier slate of citizen initiatives in 2020 that included rent control, the Green New Deal building code and an increase of the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2024.


The current minimum wage in the city is $13 per hour and the state minimum wage is $12.75 per hour.


The new minimum wage proposal seeks to increase the minimum wage to $18 by 2025 with incremental increases over the next three years. It also would do away with the “sub-minimum wage” for tipped workers and would create a city Department of Fair Labor Practices to enforce laws, ordinances and policies related to labor practices.

Pelletier said in an interview that an $18 minimum wage “seemed like a good wage to make sure we’re not putting an undue burden on employers while also making sure employees can live in Portland.” He also said that eliminating the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers will help alleviate uncertainty for service industry workers, many of whom have struggled to pay rent during the pandemic.

“Tips will be preserved,” Pelletier said. “We believe people will still tip and that tips should go on top of the minimum wage.”

Another proposal from the group seeks to strengthen tenant protections that include restricting deposits to one month’s rent, prohibiting application fees and further limiting the standard amount of annual rent increases landlords are allowed to impose to 70 percent of the change in the consumer price index. That proposal also would set a $25,000 fee for condominium conversions.


And a third proposal would put new restrictions on cruise ships coming into the city, requiring ships to obtain a city-issued permit in order to disembark passengers and limiting the number of passengers who can disembark to 1,000 per day.

The pandemic suppressed cruise ship visits to the city – there weren’t any in 2020 and in 2021 only small ships of about 100 passengers came – though more than 75 ships are scheduled to arrive in the city this year, including several with upward of 3,000 passengers on board.

The proposal says the large number of guests who have arrived in the city on cruise ships over the years has at times resulted in excessive congestion, traffic and pollution on the waterfront and made it more difficult for the city to deliver health and safety services.

“This section is, therefore enacted for the purpose of reasonably regulating the disembarking of passengers and crew from cruise ships visiting the city of Portland; preserving good order and peace in the city; providing for the public health, safety and welfare … and regulating the use of public facilities in the furtherance of private commercial activities,” it says.


DSA’s short-term rental proposal seeks to restrict short-term rentals, such as those advertised on sites like Airbnb, to only those that are owner-occupied, tenant-occupied or located in two-unit buildings occupied by the owner. It also would change the annual fee for owner-occupied short-term rentals to $250 per unit and $750 per non-owner-occupied unit. Owner-occupied short-term rentals are currently charged between $100 and $1,000 depending on number of units, while non-owner-occupied rentals pay between $200 and $4,000.


And it would require notification to residents within 500 feet of a registered short-term rental, increase penalties for ordinance violations, require the logging of complaints against short-term rentals and allow the city to revoke short-term rental registrations.

A different proposal from Ferris and a group of homeowners, many of whom operate short-term rentals in the city, seeks to make other changes to the city’s short-term rental regulations. Their proposal would prohibit corporate owners and non-local operators from registering short-term rentals in the city, prohibit evictions for the purpose of immediate conversion to short-term rentals and increase the penalty for violation of the ordinance from $1,000 to $1,500.

Ferris, who operates a short-term rental unit with his wife on the third floor of their Parkside home, said the group of homeowners are seeking to make small improvements to the city’s existing regulations.

“As a group we have a lot of experience with this and we want to make it better,” Ferris said. “We saw that the city’s existing regulations go a long way. We like what’s there we just saw an opportunity with our referendum to enhance that a little bit and fine-tune it.”

He said the referendum aims to preserve the positive impacts of the short-term rental economy while keeping ownership with local residents. “We want to make sure that going forward that short-term rentals can be a part of our diverse economy here,” Ferris said. “Of course, we want to have a positive image and have responsible ownership and management, which is key to any sort of rental, and we want to help make sure that’s in place.”



The Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce has raised concerns about the DSA’s four proposals, saying in an email to members in June that the minimum wage proposal would raise business costs during a time of inflation and harm the ability of hospitality workers to earn tips and that the proposed tenant protection measures would discourage investments in the city’s housing stock.

Quincy Hentzel, the chamber’s president and CEO, said in an email Tuesday that the chamber remains concerned about the four proposals and that “governing by referendum has proven to be catastrophic and is not the way we should be creating or changing policy in Portland.”

She cited the Green New Deal referendum passed in 2020, which some developers have said is hindering new projects and which the city recently said would add to the cost and time needed for renovations to open a new temporary homeless shelter.

Hentzel also said that having two short-term rental proposals on the ballot will confuse voters.

“If there is an issue or a challenge to be addressed in our city, it should go to the City Council where we can have a proper discussion and deliberation of the facts with all interested parties and stakeholders,” she said. “We stand ready to participate in City Council policy discussions that produce policies that will better the lives of all Portlanders.”

DSA released statements from several community members and officials in support of their initiatives in its statement.


“All workers deserve to be paid a fair, livable and reliable wage by employers in addition to our hard-earned tips, rather than having to rely on inconsistent income as a significant portion of our base wages,” said Katherine Knowles, a server at Flatbread Company, speaking in favor of the minimum wage proposal. “Not knowing how much I will earn from week to week makes it incredibly difficult to plan for my future, especially in the COVID era.”

Jess Falero, a Portland resident and co-founder of the Maine People’s Housing Coalition, which works to end homelessness and guarantee safe, affordable housing for all, voiced support for both the DSA’s short-term rental proposal and the protections for tenants.

“STR’s have squeezed too many long-term residents out of the market,” said Falero, who was formerly homeless. “I personally know too many in the community who were evicted just so a landlord could raise the rent. These two initiatives will reverse those trends and I encourage everyone who cares about keeping our city livable to join me in voting yes this fall.”


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