By Carol McCracken (Post # 2,539)
“Portland has learned that it’s not an advantage to have renters living here,” said Cecilia B. Smith, at a recent meeting of the Portland
Tenants Union. And there is plenty of evidence to support this claim by Smith, a graduate student in Urban Planning at Tufts University in Boston, a Portland renter and a single mom.
For years now, renters have endured sky rocketing rent increases often inflicted by already wealthy out-of-staters looking to make more big bucks at the expense of vulnerable renters – so much so that the crisis has brought national attention to Portland. City officials who have looked the other way – pretending there is no crisis when everyone knows there is one. City officials look the other way, listen with a deaf ear and give flip answers to serious questions.
Munjoy Hill is fertile territory for making the big bucks because it’s a low-income neighborhood with no city ordinances to protect renters from these predators – and that’s what they are – predators. The crisis for renters has been exacerbated by the conversion of former rental buildings into condominiums, expensive rentals, or abandoning them for “business” reasons. according to his former real estate attorney; S. Donald Sussman. Those mistakes help reduce the number of rental vacancies to a big fat zero – increasing the cost of the dumps left to rent.
Meanwhile, city officials turn a blind eye at the crisis preferring to divert attention from the subject when they can and mislead the public in other instances. Promises of Mayor Ethan Strimling to build more units sometime in the future does nothing to alleviate the current crisis for renters in Portland – renters of all incomes. But it does serve to shut-down an unorganized group of people – without an advocate on the City Council to speak up for them. But converting rental units to condominiums does increase the tax base – a boon for Portland that would not give the city incentive in which to interfere.
All the while the city’s Housing Committee under the leadership of retired city councilor Kevin Donoghue (G) has ignored the crisis as well. Rather, he buried his head in the sand and ignored the rental crisis. The words “rental crisis” never made its way onto his committee’s agenda for consideration, :Public testimony was limited to “actionable items” thereby making the issue unapproachable. Don’t introduce rental issues here in Portland’s Housing Committee!
It appears that the new Committee, chaired by conservative Jill Duson (D) will maintain the same status quo position when it begins its meeting later this month; Wednesday, January 27 at 5:30 pm. There is relief that the city could provide to renters. The Housing Committee has the city staff capable of researching those measures and forwarding them on to Duson’s Committee – if only the Committee would pursue that course of action and direct the staff to do so.
Although some councilors, including real estate puppet, Ed Susovic, have pointed out that there is no renter lobby group supporting them, it is common sense if not a moral issue that the city should take the steps it can to assist renters during this crisis. Greed and the lust for money does strange things to some people.
Regarding the city’s newly implemented Inclusionary Zoning (“IZ”), policy, “the City is fudging the data so that it distorts the reality of the local demographics,” Smith said in a telephone interview this morning. “The affordable criteria they are using is based on a median income that does not reflect the actual income of Portland neighborhoods. Portland does have a lot of power in how it wants to act with the shifting housing market. The city is making it very clear that it will give preference to residents who are not low-income residents,” she said.
Smith, who graduated recently from USM-Portland with two minor degrees in economics and environmental science and a certificate in geography said that she finds it ironic that Portland promotes itself as a “food hub” and yet 55% of its children go hungry. Most recently she worked at the Osher Map Library at USM, digitizing historical maps. This position helped develop her interest in urban planning.
Chris Hall, CEO, of the Portland Regional Chamber, recently expressed his concern over the lack of housing for people who work in the service industries, firefighters and teachers in Portland. “We need housing for everyone. Not just wealthy people.” he said.