Two city councilors want to create a task force to better protect renters

Good evening from the BDN Portland office on Congress Street. Here’s what’s new.

What we’re talking about

Leaders of the City Council committee tasked with developing policies to protect Portland renters today released the first draft of their plan — a stark departure from one presented last month by Mayor Ethan Strimling.

According to a statement from the city, it includes measures to:

  • Extend notification for rent increases from 45 to 60 days.
  • Require landlords and tenants to sign a city document explaining at-will tenancy.
  • Distribute information about tenant/landlord rights to all tenants.
  • Establish a six-member tenant/landlord task force, including one landlord and one tenant, to advise the City Council and respond to housing questions from the public.  
  • Add language from state law prohibiting income discrimination to city ordinances.

The package was put forward by Committee Chair Jill Duson and Vice Chair David Brenerman and, if approved by the full committee tomorrow, will be passed on for review by the full City Council.

The package is an attempt to provide greater housing security without overcompensating for the shift in the market that has caused Portland rents to soar in recent years, Brenerman said.

Rental prices in Portland reportedly rose 17.4 percent last year, according to real estate data firm Zillow, far outstripping the national average. And without corresponding increases in household income and wages, it’s increasingly difficult for middle- and low-income Portlanders to find affordable homes in Portland’s aging housing stock.

Absent from the councilor’s proposal are a number of more stringent policies that Strimling presented to the committee in August. The mayor suggested requiring that all leases have an initial term of one year, limiting the number of tenants a landlord can evict, providing earlier notice of eviction, and barring rent increases in the first year of tenancy, among other measures. But that plan received push back from local landlords, real estate lawyers and the city’s own legal counsel.

“In developing our package, we considered all of the proposals that came before us,” said Brenerman in a statement. “Some of them were not included after we learned that they were already covered by or would conflict with existing state law.”

However, Brenerman noted that it was not only the mayor’s policies that had been excluded, pointing to one by City Councilor Spencer Thibodeau calling for a 90-day period before landlords can end at-will tenancy that also didn’t make the cut.

Soon after reviewing the package put forward by Duson and Brenerman, the mayor — who is not a member of the Housing Committee — released a strongly worded statement saying that to win his support, a proposal would need to have “real, immediate and measurable impact on the housing insecurity.”

“I hope to work with the committee to move something to the full council that will allow us to look our neighbors in the eyes and tell them we did something that would make a real difference,” said Strimling.

The committee chairs put forward proposals that seemed to have broad support behind them, said Duson. “I don’t see momentum in the committee for rent control,” she said, referring to one of the mayor’s proposals.

City councilors attending the Wednesday meeting will have the opportunity to propose other measures to the committee. — Jake Bleiberg

ICYMI

Portland food lab opens tasting room to the public The tasting room in Portland’s new shared kitchen incubator opened this evening. The open house lasts until 9 p.m.

“Through experimental product lines, we are trying to give people a taste of a wide variety of food,” said CEO Neil Spillane, who is excited about a new nitro cold brew company called White Cap Coffee and the meal prep service Carr Eats, two of many startups that will test market their products to the public before they go to market. “This is the first shelf that any of our incubators will land on.”

Each week will spotlight new members in the tasting room cafe.

Thanks for coming to our debate-watching party! — We had a fun time watching the first major presidential debate of the election season with everyone. We’re planning on holding a similar event for the next debate on Oct. 9. Watch our Facebook page for more info.

Here are the records you should be listening to this fall — Emily Burnham reviews five Maine albums that you should be listening to right now. Four of the five artists are based in Portland.

Let’s check in with the restaurant owner who took a stand on assault rifles — The Boston Globe spoke with Anne Verrill, the owner of Chestnut Street restaurant Grace. In June, she posted in a note on the eatery’s Facebook page telling assault rifle owners that they were not welcome at her business.  

The Globe’s Brian MacQuarrie writes:

Business overall has not been hurt, Verrill said, but what remains is a wariness among the staff — a new, extra layer of caution — that did not exist before the Facebook post went viral.

“We don’t go through every day being fearful, but you are constantly more aware of your surroundings,” Verrill said. “I knew I might upset some people, but I never could have foreseen what happened.”

The Big Idea

Feelings of not belonging in Maine are real — Columnist Sarah Smiley writes:

Feelings of being “different” when you are new to Maine are not fiction. Neither is the immense sense of pride people have in this state — for good reason. But these divisions stymie growth and turn away people who will love Maine as much as we do.


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Got any interesting story ideas, suggestions or links to share? Email Dan MacLeod at dmacleod@bangordailynews.com, or tweet @dsmacleod.

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Dan MacLeod

About Dan MacLeod

Dan MacLeod is the editor of BDN Portland. He's an Orland native who first moved to Portland in 2002. He's been a journalist since 2008, and previously worked for the New York Post and the Brooklyn Paper.