Neighborhood leaders to address Portland housing questions

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PORTLAND — On Wednesday, it will be residents’ turn to talk about housing.

At a 5:30 p.m. meeting at King Middle School, 92 Deering Ave., the City Council Housing Committee, led by Councilor Jill Duson, will hear from a dozen representatives of the city’s neighborhood associations.

The councilors can expect common themes and unique concerns as they continue fact-finding before moving on to consider possible resolutions to the city housing crunch.

“We are not trying to vilify one part of the population; everyone needs to step up,” Parkside Neighborhood Association President Emma Holder said Monday.

Holder will be unable to attend the beginning of the meeting, so neighborhood resident and legislative candidate Herb Adams will speak for the allotted five minutes on the thoughts gathered by the neighborhood association.

“Parkside is made up of renters, homeowners and business owners, it is not just one subset,” Holder said about how they want the city to step up code enforcement and reaffirm affordable housing guidelines accepted nationally.

Jay Norris, president of the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Association, said members were still adding their input early this week. From his point of view, Norris said easing prohibitive zoning and ensuring elderly city residents could remain in their homes were priorities for him.

After a series of meetings that began in January, Norris said he is ready for action.

“I’m happy we have this Housing Committee, but our City leaders seem to have nearly exhausted the issue. What we’re in critical need of more than anything is a plan,” he said.

On Monday, former City Councilor Cheryl Leeman agreed with Norris on the need to help people keep their homes, but she also has some different priorities as the leader of the East Deering Neighborhood Association.

“It is about protecting neighborhoods and the quality of life we have come to know,” said Leeman, who served as the District 4 Councilor for 30 years before deciding against running for re-election in 2014.

While Holder embraced higher density allowances in Parkside to help add to the housing stock, Leeman was wary of extending that type of zoning off the city peninsula.

“We all moved into certain neighborhoods because we looked around and said ‘I like the looks of this,’” Leeman said. “Washington Avenue is not Forest Avenue, it is a highly residential neighborhood.”

Holder said Parkside members want to ensure there is quality housing for everyone at all income levels, but she is eager to see some redevelopment within the neighborhood, too.

“We don’t have to be making the same amount of money; we have to live safely,” she said.

Holder said housing units subsidized by the city have not been inspected well enough.

“Many are in poor condition, and we want the city to step up and take ownership of that. It is not acceptable,” she said. “We are not just complaining; we are making suggestions.”

To avert gentrification she says is already happening, Holder also wants city leaders as they move forward on policy to reinforce the standard that affordable housing should not cost more than 30 percent of someone’s monthly income.

Leeman said she has seen two boom and bust cycles in the last 30 years and fears another one as housing stock increases. She is also concerned because single-family homes in her neighborhood are becoming rentals instead of homes for first-time buyers.

She wants to see an assessment of the number of units already approved or approaching completion before councilors enact any policy decisions.

“I predict in the next several years, it will level out. Somebody needs to do some economic forecasting long term,” Leeman said.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Portland City Hall, 389 Congress St.