Portland voters this November will consider a citizen-initiated referendum seeking to exclude landlords with nine or fewer units from the city’s rent control ordinance.

The City Council voted 6-2 Monday to place the referendum on the Nov. 7 ballot. Mayor Kate Snyder was absent and Councilors Roberto Rodriguez and Mark Dion voted against the motion after also opposing an amendment to change the title of the referendum.

That amendment, brought forward by Councilor Victoria Pelletier, changed the title from “An Act to Exempt Small Landlords from Portland’s Rent Control Ordinance” to “An Act to Amend Portland’s Rent Control Ordinance.”

“I think changing it is the right thing to do, at least in my opinion,” Pelletier said. “I do think right now … small is subjective in terms of what defines small. I know it’s landlords with less than nine units, but that’s still really significant.”

Pelletier’s amendment was approved 5-3 with Dion, Rodriguez and Councilor Regina Phillips opposed.

“This completely changes it,” said Rodriguez, who said he preferred another proposal from Pelletier to change the title to specify that landlords with nine or fewer units would be exempt under the proposal. “This gets to the point that … what was presented as a petition to people who signed it, this is entirely different. It won’t ring a bell to people unless they read the summary.”


The proposal, which was brought forward as a citizen-initiated proposal earlier this summer, will be the third referendum addressing rent control since last November. Chris Korzen, who was part of the group that gathered signatures to get it on the ballot, told the Press Herald in June that the intent is to exclude “mom-and-pop” property owners from the ordinance.

“These are people who aren’t looking to get rich. They’re just looking to get by, and in a lot of cases they’ve looked to keep rents low but are now stuck with rents that are well below the typical market rate,” Korzen said at the time.

The council had the option Monday of sending the proposal to voters or adding a competing measure to the ballot.

Only three people spoke during public comment. Buddy Moore, who helped write last November’s rent control question brought forward by the Maine chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, encouraged the council to reconsider the title. DSA leaders have also said they plan to oppose the ballot question being considered this year.

“The term small landlord is a very arbitrary term and there’s not really a strong legal basis for it,” Moore said.



The council on Monday also heard updates on the city’s Encampment Crisis Response Team and plans for closing the Portland Expo as a temporary shelter for asylum seekers this week.

Director of Health and Human Services Kristen Dow told the council the work of the response team is accelerating, with 12 housing and shelter placements occurring at an encampment at the Fore River Parkway Trail since the team started its work. The number of tents at the encampment is down to 54, from 64 last week. There are 228 tents with people living in them across the city.

Dow said outreach work is continuing at other encampments, though the team is focused on the Fore River for now, with a goal of offering everyone at that site shelter or housing by Sept. 6 and getting them out of the encampment.

“There seem to be some misconceptions in the community that the work of the ECRT has stopped other work in the community around outreach at encampments, and that is simply not the case,” she said.

The city is planning on moving the remaining families at the Expo to hotels when the temporary shelter there closes Wednesday. Dow said there are currently 191 people from 60 families at the shelter. Since April, a total of 381 people from 114 families have stayed at some point at the Expo.

The city has signed a contract with a hotel in Freeport to house families there for up to a year, and is planning on utilizing another hotel, the location of which the city has not disclosed, for a few months. A long-term contract for use of that hotel hasn’t been signed and Dow said the city may instead work with the hotel on a night-to-night basis.



In other news, the council approved an affordable housing development tax increment financing district for a 54-unit affordable housing complex for older LGBTQ adults and postponed action on a rezoning on Ocean Avenue.

Tax increment financing is a tool municipalities can use to leverage new property taxes within a defined area for development. The agreement would help with the cost of the housing complex, which is being proposed by the Equality Community Center and Developers Collaborative, by returning 75% of the annual property taxes to the developer during a 30-year period.

The council in November will revisit the proposed Ocean Avenue rezoning, which has been requested by Ocean Avenue Residential LLC and was approved by the planning board in May. It would impact a 16-acre site at 900 Ocean Ave. as well as two contiguous parcels. The developer has said that while their plans are not firm, they are looking at putting around 280 apartments into the site.

The rezoning from R3 to R5a would allow for greater housing density. Councilor Andrew Zarro, whose district includes the site, said there have been many questions from residents about the proposed change. “There are a lot of unknowns and I think it is certainly worthy of a workshop,” Zarro said.

Because of inaccurate information provided to the Portland City Council, this story was updated at 5 p.m. Tuesday to update the actions the council could take on the rent control referendum. Councilors could only vote to send the referendum to voters or add a competing measure to the ballot.

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