Portland City Council mandates affordable housing

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PORTLAND — New housing developments of more than 10 units will be required to include affordable homes or apartments after a 7-2 City Council vote Monday night.

“I’m grateful to have been on the council just long enough to see this through,” District 1 Councilor Kevin Donoghue said after the vote.

“Inclusionary zoning” was part of a package of amendments passed in an effort to create more affordable housing in the city.

Councilors also enacted new eligibility rules for asylum seekers receiving General Assistance vouchers to conform with a newly enacted state law, but postponed action on zoning changes for India Street and outer Congress Street.

Inclusionary zoning requires 10 percent of housing units in developments of more than 10 units be set aside for people earning 100 percent to 120 percent of the area’s media income, which is about $77,000 for a family of four. Developers could also pay $100,000 per applicable unit to the city Housing Trust Fund in lieu of adding the affordable housing.

Donoghue, who is not seeking re-election, said he had seen plenty of incentives for developers to create affordable housing in his nine-year tenure, but not enough results.

“What we are saying is, we should set aside some of the market for middle-income people,” he said. “If this is a radical solution, I don’t know what to say.”

Councilors David Brenerman and Ed Suslovic opposed the inclusionary zoning, saying they were unconvinced it would achieve the intended goal. Brenerman said his opposition was also philosophical.

“What is the role of government when it comes to housing built by private developers not asking for any tax dollars,” he asked. “I can’t understand a policy that would compel developers to build a certain type of housing.”

The zoning amendments also increase maximum building heights from 45 feet to 65 feet in downtown areas, and loosen restrictions on converting outbuildings on private properties to accessory dwellings.

General Assistance

The new General Assistance rules will dovetail language in the state law allowing individuals “pursuing a lawful process to apply for immigration relief” to be eligible for General Assistance aid for housing, food and other necessities. The new state law, which took effect Oct. 15, allows benefits for two years and is retroactive to July 1.

The change allows the city to seek reimbursements of up to 70 percent for its General Assistance aid to asylum seekers. Before the state law was enacted, the state Department of Health and Human Services had determined asylum seekers would no longer be eligible for state aid.

In response, the city in July set up a Community Support Fund to help asylum seekers who were getting General Assistance vouchers as of June 30. More than $366,000 was spent on aid through Oct. 1, according to city DHHS documents.

India Street

Votes to create a historic district in the India Street neighborhood, making the Abraham Levey Block at 78 Middle St. a landmark and accepting the India Street Sustainable Neighborhood Plan as part of the city’s Comprehensive Plan, were postponed to Nov. 2.

After hearing 25 minutes of testimony, councilors also postponed a zoning vote to allow possible construction of offices at 1945 Congress St., the site of Portland Elks Lodge No. 188.

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

Portland City Hall, 389 Congress St.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.