The Coastal Packet: New Portland group seeks to curb rent rises and evictions

Monday, May 22

New Portland group seeks to curb rent rises and evictions

Portland Press Herald - A new citizens group is organizing to demand a referendum in Portland to curb rising rents and mass evictions in Maine’s largest city.

The rent control effort, or “rent stabilization” as the group calls it, is being pursued by a new group of Portlanders called Resurgam, which was formed after the last presidential election as a way to become engaged in the local community, said member Bre Chamberlain. residents, not council, would OK zoning changes

Another proposed referendum would give residents more say in the rezoning process in Portland.

A developer would need the approval of neighborhood residents before getting a zone change, according to documents provided by the city. Currently, those decisions are made by the Planning Board after receiving a staff recommendation and listening to public comment.

The ordinance would prevent a zone change from being enacted if 25 percent of residents living within 500 feet sign a document opposing the change. However, a developer could overcome that obstacle by getting a majority of residents living within 100 feet of the site to sign a document in support within a 45-day period.

Westbrook Street resident Mary Davis, an attorney and organizer, said she expects to receive the petitions from City Hall on Friday. The group will have 80 days to collect about 1,500 signatures from registered voters to put the ordinance on the November ballot.

The referendum could affect an effort to rezone the 45-acre Camelot Farm, on Westbrook Street, to allow for more single-family houses. But Davis said people throughout the city are involved in the referendum effort.

West End residents are currently fighting a proposal to rezone the Western Waterfront to allow for taller buildings. Rezoning along the Eastern Waterfront has been controversial for some Munjoy Hill residents, as was a rezoning in Deering Center.

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They’re calling the campaign Fair Rent Portland and hope to limit annual rent increases in larger buildings and ban no-cause evictions, among other things.

“We need to make sure the workforce that helps make Portland so wonderful and desirable are actually able to live in the city they work in,” Chamberlain said.

Portland is experiencing a boom in construction of high-end and market-rate housing that is often unaffordable to students, artists and people who work in the city’s large service industry. Meanwhile, high demand for housing has pushed up rents for some existing apartments, with some landlords using no-cause evictions to empty units so they can be improved and fetch higher rents.

A Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram analysis showed that rents in Portland increased 40 percent from 2010 to 2015. The rapid increase, most dramatic in the Munjoy Hill area, happened at the same time incomes were declining for the average renter in Portland.

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