A recent Press Herald editorial (“Our View: New short-term rental commission must take a long-term, statewide view,” Aug. 11) described various efforts to address the lack of affordable housing by limiting the availability of short-term rentals. These initiatives include two referendums that will appear on November’s ballot: one written by a group of homeowners in Portland, and the other written by the Maine chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America.

A referendum that would allow short-term rentals only in a Portland owner’s primary home would make it harder for people of limited means to live or vacation on Portland’s islands, Meghan Casey writes. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The editorial failed to note an important feature of the DSA referendum: Portland’s islands are included. It would make all short-term rentals in Portland illegal except those in a homeowner’s primary home or attached duplex. Unlike most city ordinances about short-term rentals, it would not exclude island homes. The referendum ignores important differences between short-term rentals on the mainland and the islands.

Vacation rentals have been a mainstay of Portland’s islands for at least a century. Island cottages have been in families for generations. Unlike on the mainland, eliminating short-term rentals on the islands will produce no affordable rental housing. In fact, it will make it harder for those of limited means, like my family, to live or vacation on the islands.

Many island rentals are seasonal homes – uninsulated cottages with no access to running water in the winter. They cannot become affordable housing. Others are winterized, but if the DSA referendum passes, even winterized short-term rentals are unlikely to become affordable housing. These dwellings are vacation homes for owners like my family, who rent them by the week or month to help pay their taxes or mortgage. If short-term rentals are outlawed, then homeowners who can’t afford to keep their summer homes would likely sell rather than rent out their house year-round. Why own a vacation home you can never use?

The DSA referendum would also hurt island businesses – the restaurants, stores, art galleries, bike rentals and ice cream shops that depend on visitors who stay in short-term rentals. These changes would limit the islands to residents who can afford to buy primary homes at high prices or who can afford to buy second homes they do not need to rent.

Finally, this referendum would eliminate some of the most affordable monthly rentals in Portland: winter island rentals. Although these are not ideal because people have to move out in the summer, they do provide some affordable rents for Portlanders.


I am a teacher. My husband is a carpenter. I have long-standing ties to Peaks Island. Sixteen years ago we were lucky to find an inexpensive piece of land where we built a small, winterized cottage. We rent it some summer weeks, use it ourselves and rent it for a modest amount in the winter. We plan to retire there. Our family is part of the island community. Most of our renters come every year. They love Peaks and are part of the island community.

Our story is not unique – it is the norm for short-term rentals on the islands. It is the story of countless island, lake, hunting and fishing cabins all over Maine. Maine is not a wealthy state. But we have the highest rate of second-home ownership in the country. It is a beautiful thing about our state – everyone can enjoy our spectacular outdoors. Changes like those proposed make that harder.

I am an affordable-housing advocate and understand that affordable housing is a complex issue that requires input from a significant number of constituencies to solve. It is best served by a legislative effort, like the state commission examining short-term rentals. The referendum process allows a small number of people to circumvent the legislative work of elected councilors.

The DSA-written referendum on November’s ballot will not increase affordable housing on Portland’s islands. It will serve to push the islands to become elite enclaves where all but the most wealthy leave on the last boat every night.

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