Members of a Portland committee that was set up to protect tenants in the wake of the Noyes Street fire that killed six people now want to dissolve the panel, saying it has been ineffective for years.

The Rental Housing Advisory Committee has struggled for years to find its place in city government, an effort that was complicated further in 2020 when city voters approved a rent control ordinance that established a similar volunteer board with more power.

The City Council is expected to vote on the issue Monday. Committee members have been requesting dissolution for more than a year.

“There were a lot of issues with membership, people were leaving, and for a good part of last year there wasn’t a quorum to meet and make those decisions,” said Mary Davis, who helps oversee the committee as the city’s director of housing and community development. “Ultimately, they met in the fall and landed on dissolution.”

The committee has nine seats, all filled by volunteers, and carries little power. It makes recommendations to the City Council’s Housing and Economic Development Committee, which in turn makes recommendations to the full council, which has the final vote. 

It was established after a duplex at 20 Noyes St. caught fire early in the morning of Nov. 1, 2014. The fire started when improperly discarded smoking materials placed in a plastic receptacle melted and ignited the front porch. The building didn’t have functioning smoke detectors and six young people died. The landlord, Gregory Nisbet, was acquitted of six counts of manslaughter but found guilty of a fire code violation for not having a second means of escape for a third-floor bedroom.


The fire also prompted the city to set up a Housing Safety Office, hire more inspectors and required landlords to register their units.

Since the rental advisory committee’s inception, Davis said both it and the council have struggled to define its role and power.

It has two broad duties: to provide the council with recommendations on rental issues; and to identify educational opportunities for landlords and tenants.

When committee members first asked for dissolution last year, city councilors asked them to come up with a concrete work plan instead. But as the committee struggled to gather enough members to meet, that goal fell apart.

“While we have been eager to help be a part of the solution to these challenges, we have sought guidance and counsel from the (Housing and Economic Development Committee) without response, which ultimately frustrates our ability to carry out our charge,” the committee wrote in a February memo. “Though there is much work for the city to do on these vital issues, we reluctantly request that the city dissolve the Rental Housing Advisory Committee.”



James Dillion has served on the committee since July 2023. After being sworn in, he said he reached out to the city for months to figure out when the committee met and what they were working on. He got an email in October telling him that the committee hadn’t met since spring.

When the group finally met in January, he said they spent most of their time discussing if they should be dissolved.

Dillon said he’d been excited to play a part in addressing the city’s housing crisis, instead his experience has been “basically like planning the funeral for the committee.”

He realized the committee didn’t have a clearly defined role and that the council often ignored its recommendations.

In the early days of the committee’s work in 2018, Davis said they put together a proposal over application fees for rental housing. They passed it on to the council’s housing committee and it was eventually brought before the entire council, but with significant changes. The committee members were upset and felt their recommendation wasn’t taken seriously, she said.

“There was a misunderstanding of how much power the advisory committee had,” Davis said. From that point on, the committee struggled to occupy a specific role.


Dillon said the committee’s greatest accomplishment since he joined has been updating the city’s website to include more information on rental housing.

“The reason (the committee) didn’t work was not for lack of trying, everyone on that committee had great ideas and good intentions,” he said. “But it felt like a hamster wheel, we didn’t have the legs to make any effective change.”


It’s unclear how Monday’s vote will swing. Councilor Pious Ali, who chairs the council’s housing committee, said there has been no established working relationship between the two groups over the last three years.

“The creation of that committee was by a whole different council and there was no structure put in place around their work,” Ali said.

He said he is eager to discuss the decision with the full council and isn’t sure how he will vote yet.


“I believe that this needs the full council’s voice, that is why the committee agreed to bring it forward to the council. So the council will deliberate as a whole and decide,” he said.

Jessica Grondin, a spokesperson for the city, said city staff will not weigh in on the decision.

Councilor Kate Sykes, who was elected in November and sits on the council’s housing committee, supports dissolution.

She doesn’t anticipate the council’s vote will be very contentious; most of the rental advisory committee is in agreement that dissolution is the best path forward.

“I don’t anticipate much pushback,” said Sykes, “this never should have taken so long.”

Many say the advisory committee was rendered useless after the rent board was created in 2020.


The rent board has more duties and power, including deciding when landlords can raise rent and mediating conflicts between landlords and tenants. But its duties are specifically related to the rent control ordinance and its purview doesn’t extend beyond that.

Aaron Chase, who has been on the rental advisory committee since November, said that most of its work overlaps with the rent board.

“Everybody knows there is still plenty of value in having a place where tenants and landlords can come together and hash out issues,” Chase said. “But this wasn’t it.”

Both groups have struggled to fill vacancies. The rental advisory committee currently has two openings; the rent board has one, but two more seats are expected to open up soon. It often takes months to fill them.

Davis said both also have struggled to reach a quorum – the minimum number of members who must be present for the meeting to proceed.

Sykes believes that some of the current advisory committee members may be able to help fill vacancies on the rent board should their committee be dissolved, something Dillon said he would be open to.

Her only concern about dissolving the committee is that citizens might have less representation on housing issues.

“We just want to make sure we don’t lose anything,” she said.

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