By Carol McCracken (Post # 2,266)
“I want to organize a tenants’ group to collect our thoughts and let people know what has been discussed here in order to have a tenants’ voice at the external meetings,” said Grace Damon following the third in a series of task force meetings at city hall this morning. “Not having a tenant participate in these meetings is a concern, she said. This series of meetings was implemented by the city’s acting city manager Sheila Hill-Christian in response to the catastrophic fire last month in which 6 tenants died at 20-24 Noyes Street. One egress point was blocked, there were no working smoke alarms among other problems, despite numerous complaints about conditions at the property owned by Greg Nisbet, Jr.
Damon stated following the meeting today that she has scheduled a meeting for tenants on Friday, January 2, 2015 between 1:00 – 3:00 pm at ASpaceforGrace, 1 Marginal Way, (2nd floor) in Portland. Kathryn McGowen, Esq., an attorney for Pine Tree Legal will attend the meeting. McGowen, (who is not a renter) was appointed to :Phase 11 of the fire task force that meets for the first time on Monday, January 5, 2015. She was appointed by Christian to represent tenants, however. Damon, a a renter, has attended all three task force meetings taking notes on what has transpired at each of them to report to tenants who do not have access to the specifics and how they were determined.
One of the possible recommendations under discussion today was establishing a housing department at city hall that can make code enforcement decisions with the authority to administer citations, keeping a strong connection to the Portland Fire Department. The Fire Department would continue to provide public education and be proactive in the examination of tenants’ apartments – those having three (3) or more units. How often buildings should be inspected was part of the discussion. Tammy Munson, Inspection’s Department, said there are some buildings that don’t have to be inspected as frequently because they are well maintained. Munson said there also needs to be a discussion of “anonymous” complaints because tenants are afraid of retaliation by their landlords.
More staff would be needed to implement a housing deparatment. The figure of three (3) new staff was mentioned by Tammy Munson. The inspections division has a landlord registry, but only about 100 landlords have signed up. Landlords need to be penalized for not signing the registry, with their contact information in case of an emergency. City employee, Jon Rioux, said: “The public is looking for us to beef up enforcement.”
“The next meeting will get much more adversarial,” predicted Jim Harmon, an alternate representative from the Southern Maine Landlords Association. “Both landlords and tenants so far have been pretty much people on one side of the table. The cities. It won’t be that way at the January 5th meeting,” he said. Harmon owns 1,000 rental units in Portland.
For more information on the Friday, January 2nd meeting, please email Grace at: firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at (207) 747-5494.
The city has now released its schedule for meetings coming up next year: January 5th and 12th, 4:00 pm in Room 24 at city hall; January 26th and January 29th, both at 4:00 pm in Room 209 at city hall; The week there will be a public hearing. On February 10th at 5:30 pm., there will be a presentation to the Public Safety Health & Human Services Committee before going on to the City Council.
The City has scheduled Phase 11 Meetings of the Fire Task Force for January 5th, 12th, 26th, and 29th with a possible meeting the week of February 2nd. Places and times not yet announced. These meetings are open to the public.