SOUTH PORTLAND — The housing crisis is a driving issue for all four candidates running for two at-large seats on the City Council, but they have different ideas on how to solve the multifaceted problem and other challenges facing Maine’s fourth-largest city.

The candidate slate for the Nov. 8 election includes longtime former school board member Richard Matthews, who served as chairman for seven of his 12 years on the panel. The three other candidates – Steven Silver, Natalie West and Brendan Williams – are political newcomers seeking elected office for the first time.

They are running to replace Susan Henderson, who isn’t seeking reelection after two three-year terms on the seven-member council, and to fill a second at-large seat that has been vacant since Katie Bruzgo resigned in April because she was moving out of South Portland.

All four candidates agree that the housing crisis is the city’s biggest problem. Hundreds of homeless individuals and asylum seekers have been sheltered in local hotels since the pandemic began, housing costs are skyrocketing and affordable single-family homes, condominiums and apartments are scarce. But the candidates differ on what to do about the problem and how the council is fairing in its efforts so far.

Richard Matthews, South Portland City Council candidate

“This is such a complicated situation,” said Matthews, 56, a retired bar owner. “There is no one thing that will solve it. We can’t rush in. We have to listen to the experts.” That includes the city’s recent Housing Needs Assessment and Strategy Report and its recommendations to increase housing density and public transit.

Matthews said the council took “a good first step” this month when it gave preliminary approval to allow accessory dwelling units or in-law apartments in residential zones without seeking a special exception. The three other candidates agree with him. The final vote is in November, after the election but before these candidates would take office.


Matthews also said the council was right to pass a 10 percent emergency cap on rent increases when 500-unit Redbank Village Apartments started raising rents as much as 35 percent last spring, after the complex was purchased by a California-based company. But he’s glad the council is approaching rent control in a “thoughtful way,” having pushed deliberations on a rent stabilization proposal to next year.

“You don’t want to hurt local landlords,” Matthews said. “You want to target the big landlords from away, like Redbank.”

Steven Silver, South Portland City Council candidate

Silver, in contrast, is highly critical of the council’s approach to the housing crisis, saying the panel spent too much time this year amending an ordinance to further limit the hours that dogs can run off leash on Willard Beach. Silver circulated a petition to repeal the change but failed to gather enough signatures.

Silver said making ADUs an allowed use and reducing required lot sizes would help increase the housing supply, as recommended in the city’s housing report. But he opposes rent control because he believes it would ultimately drive up rents and discourage housing development, also in line with the housing report.

“Any form of rent control is going to be a terrible idea for South Portland,” said Silver, 36, an attorney who specializes in employment, sports and gaming law. “It’s basic economics. You have to build more (housing) and you have to make it easier to build more.”

Silver questioned the deal that the council struck with area hotels to end their use as emergency shelters by the end of February 2023. He said the city is on the verge of a humanitarian and fiscal crisis because it doesn’t have a plan to shelter homeless people after that.


“The council isn’t going to kick them out,” Silver said. “The state needs to step in.”

West said she believes the council has addressed the housing crisis “in a very solid way,” but she also would push for a regional or statewide approach to the growing homeless population. She also would promote the construction of family and workforce housing; support Maine’s congressional delegation in changing federal laws so asylum seekers could get work permits more quickly; and pursue property tax breaks for all struggling homeowners.

West said she would consider a rent stabilization measure tailored to larger complexes.

Natalie West, South Portland City Council candidate

“That’s where we’ve seen the most unconscionable conduct,” said West, 75, a retired municipal lawyer who owns four rental units. “The biggest problem with rent stabilization is that it does nothing to increase the housing supply.”

She said she worries that rent control measures applied too broadly can have the opposite effect, such as anti-gouging or anti-banking clauses that encourage landlords to raise rents to the maximum each year whether or not it’s warranted.

Williams, 33, said he’s in favor of rent stabilization for larger apartment complexes. He would support efforts to build more low-income and affordable housing, possibly funded by a local option tax on hotels, marijuana businesses and alcohol, he said. He also would seek property tax relief to help low-income people stay in their homes and funding to help homeowners develop ADUs.


Although council elections are nonpartisan, Williams said he is a liberal Democrat when asked to describe his politics. He said he’s running because he is hearing impaired and he wants to advocate for others who have different abilities.

Brendan Williams, South Portland City Council candidate

“There should be more people in city government advocating for people with disabilities,” said Williams, who works as a food server and a stand-up comedian. He’s also a member of the city’s Human Rights and Civil Service commissions.

He said he would seek funding to expand mental health services at the municipal level and he would work to increase language translation options at City Hall for residents who are deaf or speak languages other than English, especially during public meetings.

“Diversity is a good thing,” Williams said. “All people should be welcomed in South Portland.”

Williams said he supports the city’s “One Climate Future” plan with neighboring Portland, which lays out steps to transition municipal operations to 100% clean renewable energy by 2040, and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80% citywide by 2050. He would encourage continued monitoring of emissions from fuel storage tanks and other programs to improve air and water quality.

He believes the city should offer funding to residents who want to make their homes more energy efficient and sustainable, he said, but it shouldn’t require businesses and developers to install electric vehicle charging stations before it’s economically viable.


West is a member of the Noise Advisory Committee for Portland International Jetport. She also drafted the proposed Waterfront Protection Ordinance in 2013 that failed at the ballot box but laid the groundwork for the subsequent Clear Skies Ordinance, which survived a years-long federal court challenge by the Portland Pipe Line Corp.

“I have a skill set that can help the city at a critical time,” said West, who described herself as politically moderate. If elected, West said she would support the council’s ongoing efforts to promote an environmentally sustainable and culturally diverse community.

“It’s one of the things I value most about South Portland,” she said. “I think you get a richer experience in a diverse community and you become a more interesting person.”

She would seek federal infrastructure funding to stop the discharge of sewage at Willard Beach, she said, and she would work to open talks with the pipeline company, which has been largely shut down for several years.

“It’s an ideal time to forge a cooperative relationship with the Portland Pipe Line to devise a plan to meet their needs and the city’s needs,” West said.

Matthews is a member of the Civil Service Commission and a former board member of South Portland Little League and Coastal Maine Aquatics. He called himself a “common sense moderate” who would like to heal divisions among residents. He said he enjoys talking with people in the community and answering emails.


“We need to bring our community back together,” Matthews said. “What divides people is when they feel unheard and not respected. One of the best forms of communication is listening.”

He said he also appreciates South Portland’s growing diversity, which became apparent in recent years when the school board faced community concerns about racism in the city’s schools.

“I welcome all new faces to the city,” he said. “People with all different backgrounds from all over the world. Our diversity and our differences increase our strength as a community. When people have different perspectives, it isn’t always easy to reach consensus, but that’s where some of the best ideas come from.”

Matthews said he supports the city’s climate action plan. “As a coastal city, we’ve got to keep an eye on the climate and made smart investments to protect it,” he said.

Silver described himself as a free-market moderate who favors incentives over mandates, especially when promoting the installation of EV chargers. He is chair of the Maine Gambling Control Board and a former member of the Maine State Board of Property Tax Review and Portland’s Board of Assessment Review.

Silver said he decided to run after seeing too many unanimous council votes following minimal debate when opposing views were shot down. He embraces the various insights and opinions found in a diverse community, he said. “But when you say you want to foster diversity, you have to mean it,” he said, adding that the council shouldn’t meet on Jewish high holy days.

If elected, he said he would work to increase transparency on the council and reduce hostility toward community members. He also would promote deliberations based on data rather than emotion and encourage the council to focus on more important matters, such as sea level rise, water pollution and oil tank emissions.

And he would work to roll back off-leash limits for dogs at Willard Beach, he said.

“I have no singular personal agenda,” Silver said. “We need to represent everybody, not just a single group.”

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