The affordable housing shortage and support for asylum seekers are issues the two candidates running for the South Portland District 2 City Council seat say they will take on if elected Nov. 7.

Rachael Coleman, a retired nurse, faces Jeffrey McDonald, a small business owner and current Planning Board member, in the race for the seat left vacant by Kate Lewis, who is not seeking reelection. District 2 encompasses Knightville, a portion of Ferry Village and parts of other neighborhoods to the south. Residents of South Portland vote for all council members.

Affordable housing

Creating opportunities for more affordable housing in the city is a priority for both Coleman, 74, and McDonald, 54.


“It’s not just a concern for young people or working-class people, but also for the elderly who are being pushed out of apartments because of costs, and some actually for taxes,” Coleman said.

Building more accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, is one solution, she said, both for tenants looking for affordable housing and for landlords, especially seniors, who could rent out an ADU as a source of income.


High-density developments are another solution, she said. The Maine Mall area should be explored as a site for more multi-unit affordable housing because of its bus routes and proximity to amenities and services.

“We are running out of room,” she said. “We only have room, actually, to build up, and ADUs.”


McDonald also noted the lack of developable space in the city, saying “we’re not getting any more land” and, because of that, zoning is key.

“We have to make as best use as we can of the land that we do have, reduce the cost and (barriers) for somebody to develop the land that is available,” he said.

Permitting multi-unit developments in more areas is a good way to start, he said. “I’m not saying that the (current) ordinances were put in place with the intention of doing harm … But we need to review the ordinances that we have now: Which ones are effective and which ones do we need to go ahead and say, ‘All right, we could probably remove these or revise these.’”

McDonald also said that multi-unit homes and high-density developments are more sustainable, comparing the carbon and physical footprint, energy costs and potential environmental hazards spurred by a 100-unit development versus 100 single-family homes.


Asylum seekers

Both candidates credited the city for doing the best it could to provide shelter and services to an influx of asylum seekers starting in 2021, but said a permanent solution needs to be found.

“The challenge that I see with asylum seekers is they didn’t emigrate 8,000 miles to live in a 12-by-12 room,” McDonald said, referring to rooms in hotels in the city that operated as emergency shelters. “They wanted to come here, use their skills, use their talents, build a life, and build a life for their children. We are wasting that potential because we can’t seem to find a way to allow them to work, and lord knows we have lots of job openings.”

Asylum seekers must wait six months from the time they officially seek asylum status before they can work. While the city doesn’t have control over those regulations, McDonald said, it needs to have conversations with the federal and state government officials who do.

“If you’re going to be sending us refugees and asylum seekers, they’ve got to come with the ability to work, a temporary visa, so that we can have them come into our communities and not be dependent upon something that they don’t want to be dependent upon,” he said.

Coleman said the problem “is not going away.”


“I feel that the asylum seekers are actually an asset to our community,” she said. “A lot of them are families (and) we can’t even comprehend the trauma that they’ve experienced to be here.”

Schools can play a key role, she said, and she’d be willing to work closely with the School Board.

“Something I would support as a City Council member is that we have equality throughout all of the schools,” she said.

Skillin Elementary, for example, has a large number of students from asylum-seeking families, she said. “That particular school needs more assistance with language so that students can access our educational system.”

Mahoney school building

Both candidates said they would analyze an ongoing city needs assessment to help determine what to do with Mahoney Middle School to inform their decision about the building’s future use.


When asked what they would do with it if they could do anything, Coleman said it should have multiple uses.

“This could also be a moneymaker for the city of South Portland. It’s got a marvelous gym and has a stage and some of that could be rented out or leased for events,” she said.

McDonald said he’d use the building as a City Hall, consolidating all city services there and renting out the remaining space.

“That’ll build greater collaboration between different departments,” McDonald said. “I would look at it as an opportunity to rent out (additional) space for professional services, whether it’s accounting and legal, computer services, IT, art.”

Coleman is a registered Democrat and McDonald is not enrolled in a party.

For more information on voting and the city’s voting districts, go to the Elections & Voter Registration page at

This story was edited Oct. 17 to clarify that all South Portland residents vote for in council elections, regardless of their district.  

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