Portland Housing Committee ready for public input

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PORTLAND — The City Council Housing Committee will be seeking public comment on Feb. 10 as it assess the local housing situation.

The second meeting of the committee, chaired by Councilor Jill Duson, will begin at 5:30 p.m. in City Council chambers at City Hall. Public comment is expected to be taken for 30 to 40 minutes during the two-hour meeting.

“This has been an opportunity to set the stage,” Duson said Jan. 27 as the committee concluded its first meeting, comprised of assessments on local housing needs, prices and city programs and financing options for development.

A speaker at the committee meeting was Christopher Herbert, who heads the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Hebert said the city’s situation is not unique, with wage stagnation combining with increased housing costs to pinch renters and homeowners earning as much as $75,000 or $100,000 annually.

He also said he sees promise in city efforts to improve conditions, including inclusionary zoning that mandates setting aside affordable housing, and changes in parking and density regulations that encourage more development.

Herbert outlined other possible steps, including rent control measures, but Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce CEO Chris Hall warned against too much government intervention.

“We don’t want you to step on the market by over-regulating it,” Hall said.

City Planning & Urban Development Director Jeff Levine noted city officials created a housing plan in 2002, which he said “has held up pretty well,” but added by his estimate, city rents increased as much as 9 percent last year.

Levine also noted a Greater Portland Council of Governments 2015 study estimated a gap of as much as 33 percent in the rate of affordable housing versus need in the next 15 years.

The committee will look at city zoning, especially along its major routes, and then assess options and opportunities in third and fourth meetings. Locations have not been determined, but Duson said the committee should not confine itself to meeting in City Hall.

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

Christopher Herbert, who addressed the City Council Housing Committee Jan. 27, said housing problems in Portland are not unique, and praised the city’s efforts to improve the situation.

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.