By Carol McCracken (Post # 2,274)
Two local landlords and a legal representative for low-income tenants joined Phase 11 of the city’s Safety Task Force that met for the first time this afternoon. The Safety Task Force met three times as part of Phase 1 in December of 2014 in response to the fatal fire on Noyes Street in November. The two landlords were Carlton Winslow, of the 200-member organization, Southern Maine Landlords Association, and Crandall Toothacker, a Munjoy Hill resident, who owns numerous rental units in Portland. The single tenant voice was an employee of Pine Tree Legal who said she did not represent the recently formed Portland Tenants’ Union. Daaaa?
Julie Sullivan, Acting Chief of Staff, outlined the work discussed to date for the three new members. Sullivan reported conversations regarding the need for a separate housing department where all the coordination of new programs and systems would be centralized. She listed numerous responsibilities to come under that department including enforcement of the city’s registry for building landlords, a place to receive complaints about landlords, web site data base compilation to name a few. However, Winslow expressed concerns about such costs for such a department. Sullivan backed down on the need for a “department”, but did say there needs to be one person, if not a department, responsible for coordinating changes to be implemented to protect tenants against another Noyes Street fire. Winslow said the city has plenty of employees to do what needs to be done without hiring anyone. Winslow apparently supports a shuffling of duties, although he didn’t call it that.
Toothaker expressed concern that landlords be held responsible for providing third-party inspections at their own expense – a possibility that has been discussed at prior meetings. Landlords are afraid that inspectors will enter buildings and require extensive repairs that will be unduly expensive to the landlord. However, it was stated that the city would look for a “minimum inspection” and provide inspectors with a check list to be followed.
A Pine Tree Legal attorney, Kathryn McGowan, represented to the Task Force suggestions she’d gleaned from her practice on behalf of low-income tenants. However, she capitulated to Winslow’s pushback on addressing the interests of the Portland Tenants’ Union. The Union spoke clearly about its priorities last week at its first meeting. (See previous post herein.) It’s priorities included establising a landlord/tenant board that could resolve some problems by opening communication between all parties, voluntary rent guidelines and more. Both Winslow and Toothaker spoke in favor of the landlord/tenant board at the Portland Tenants Union meeting. The subject was scuttled tonight by the attorney McGowan. of Pine Tree Legal..
Assistant Chief of Fire Prevention and Community Outreach for the Portland Fire Department Keith Gautreau said he is working on programs to educata college students and young professionals who live in rental units about fire prevention.
It’s expected there will be a public hearing the week of February 2, 2015. No date has been set for that. The recommendation of the task force will go to the Public Health and Safety Commitee on February 10th.
The next Task Force meeting is set for Monday, January 12th at City Hall, Room 24, at 2:30 pm. Meetings are open to the public but no public comment is taken at them.