By Carol McCracken (Post # 2,327)
It was once on the fast track for arrival at the Public Safety Committee. But as of last night it was derailed or worse yet it could end up in a train collision with Committee Chair Ed Suslovic. “IT” is the report containing recommendations of the city’s Fire Task Force that was formed in the afternath of the tragic fire on Noyes Street last year in which six lives were lost. The Task Force. has been meeting regularly since December of 2014. It’s charge was to come up with recommendations for the City Council on how to avert such a recurrence. Anticipating increased expenses, it was rushed through to be ready for consideration in the upcoming budget. The Task Force was composed of city staff, two landlords, an attorney, but no one from the rental community – that became a controversy from the beginning and never abated.
But Suslovic, Committee Chair, has not disclosed that he was formerly a lobbyist for the real estate industry in Augusta, a landlord as well as his retention of a real estate broker’s license. His failure to reveal this information publicly, without being prodded,is of concern and not standard procedure.
One of the recommendations from the Fire Task Force was the establishment of a housing safety office to be located at city hall. The office would be staffed by a coordinator and a staff trained to do rental building inspections. From that office other services would also originate under the supervision of the coordinator. A recommendation from a Task Force who has studied the issue since December 2014, Suslovic dismissed as not being necessary. Chair Suslovic appeared to take delight in throwing cold water on the recommendations of the Task Force created by the Acting C ity Manager, Sheila Hill-Christian.
Ian Jacob,President of the Wes End Neighborhood Association, asked the committee what did it intend to do with all of the empty buildings around town? The ones that are abandoned where the front yards are steeped in walls of snow that prevent access to them? In the event of a fire how does a firefighter get access? Apparently nothing will be done. No one bothered to address his concern.
For far too many years, Portland has neglected renters. The horrific fire on Noyes Street last November and the resulting creation of a Fire Task Force has opened up a Pandora’s box the city never hoped to see. This peak into the dirty laundry that has shrouded the rental housing stock was not sought by city officials. But the city’s very own neglect contributed to it. The on-going drip, drip, drip is somehing that Suslovic is anxious to stop just as quickly as the Noyes Street fire broke-out.