Portland housing divisions lose staffers

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PORTLAND — Consolidation and a new opportunity have led to staff changes in City Hall.

Art Howe, who headed the Housing Safety Office and set up its residential inspection program, lost his job when his position was eliminated last month, city spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said March 30.

Howe’s last day was March 17, but he had already been on two weeks paid leave, a standard procedure for city staff who are being let go.

Housing Planner Tyler Norod’s last day was March 27, Grondin said.

Norod is now a development officer for Avesta Housing, the nonprofit’s spokeswoman Sara Olson said Tuesday.

On Norod’s final day, the City Council approved ordinance amendments governing short-term rentals in the city, using text, data and recommendations Norod had put together.

“You train them, and then they want to go,” joked Councilor Jill Duson, the chairwoman of the City Council Housing Committee.

The city has already started advertising for a new housing planner; Grondin expects it will take at least six weeks to fill the position.

Howe joined the city staff in September 2015. The Housing Safety Office had been created on a recommendation from the task force established to improve safety after the Nov. 1, 2014 fire at 20-24 Noyes St. that killed six people.

The office was established to renew the city inspection program and extend it beyond complaint-based inspections to proactively inspect rental housing in the city.

The creation of the Permitting & Inspections Office last year has led to a planned restructuring, Grondin said, adding, “We always envisioned the office would get folded in.”

The Permitting & Inspections Office is led by Michael Russell, and Grondin said the Housing Safety Office will now be led by Jonathan Rioux, who is also a per diem firefighter in Scarborough and well versed in life safety codes.

While eliminating Howe’s management position, Grondin said the city intends to add a fourth inspector to the office.

The inspection program began about a year ago, Grondin said. Through March 22, over 2,700 inspections were conducted, including more than 1,400 first visits. More than 300 complaints were investigated.

The inspection program is funded by fees to landlords of $35 per unit. There are some discounts available, but each rental unit is assessed a minimum fee of $15. Landlords need to register each year by Jan. 1.

The task force worked with an estimate of 17,000 rental units in the city. Initial registrations totaled more than 18,000, which brought in $422,000 in revenue where $416,000 was anticipated.

Grondin said registrations have dipped to more than 15,000 so far this year, with more than $458,000 in fees collected through March 22. Within that revenue is $42,600 in fees for 2016 registrations.

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

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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.
  • Mainer1

    More fees, more taxes = less jobs, less rentals