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Portland Council Puts Rent Control Proposal on Ballot After Heated Public Hearing

Abukar Adan
Maine Public
Other communities that Portland rent control referendum supporters say have similar laws, rendered in chalk Wednesday outside Portland City Hall.

A proposed ordinance to control rent and curb evictions in Portland sparked a heated debate during a City Council hearing Wednesday night.  But opponents' arguments failed to sway the council, which voted to put the item on the November ballot.

Supporters of the rent control measure, led by a group called Fair Rent Portland, want to implement a rent stabilization strategy that they say has worked effectively in other cities. Opponents argue the referendum would depress property values and place unnecessary constraints on property owners.  

Zack Anchors, a proponent of rent stabilization, believes that the ordinance is good for small businesses. He says he's concerned about affordable housing in Portland and worries that businesses may face difficulty attracting workers, especially those in the service industry. 

"My business has more than 20 employees and a great many of them are unable to find affordable housing in Portland," Anchors says. "This makes it hard to recruit and retain employees. And it creates extra expenses for the employees and so many other burdens and challenges."

But Carlton Winslow, a long-time housing provider, fears the ordinance would do much more than just stabilize rent.   

"There is a tremendous number of protections for tenants in here that don't seem to have any protection for landlords," Winslow says. "It's difficult enough for me to get an unruly tenet out that's affecting other tenets in the building. This would make it almost impossible."

In the end, the City Council voted to put the rent stabilization referendum on the November ballot, along with another measure that would revise Portland's zoning process to allow neighbors of proposed development projects a bigger say in any rezoning efforts.

Residents will vote on the measures Nov. 7.