Smaller Portland Housing Committee still working on short-term rentals

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PORTLAND — The City Council Housing Committee begins 2017 reduced in size, with one new member, and a vexing question.

The committee was reduced from five to three members this year, with Councilors Belinda Ray, Spencer Thibodeau and Nick Mavodones Jr. no longer taking part.

Yet it is work from Ray and Thibodeau on how the city may regulate short-term housing rentals that will be up for discussion again when the committee meets at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 11 in City Hall.

“I’m excited about it. The test for me is how to figure out how I lead the committee and make sure everybody feels like they are part of the work,” Councilor Jill Duson said Dec. 16.

Duson begins her second year leading the committee created by Mayor Ethan Strimling in December 2015, and continues to work with Councilor David Brenerman. Joining them is Councilor Brian Batson, inaugurated Dec. 5 after he defeated former Councilor Ed Suslovic Nov. 8.

“David is incredibly thoughtful and brings a different perspective to the table and I look forward to Brian’s fresh eyes. He is an incredibly hard worker,” Duson said.

The committee had previously agreed on nearly a dozen principles that would be part of regulating short-term rentals, including registrations with the city Housing Safety Office, defining short-term rentals as 30 days or fewer, dedicating all registration fees and any fines to the city Housing Trust Fund, and applying the city Disorderly House Ordinance to ensure short-term rentals are not problems in neighborhoods.

The specific fee structure and differentiating between owner-occupied and non owner-occupied short term rentals remains unresolved, as committee members considered policy proposals from Ray and Thibodeau.

The two then drafted a compromise that would place a $35 registration fee on owner-occupied single homes used for short-term rentals, and a $5,000 registration fee for short-term rentals in single family homes that are not owner-occupied.

The compromise also caps the number of short-term rentals in multiple unit buildings, again based on whether the buildings are owner-occupied. The fee structure would remain consistent, beginning at $250 for a single unit, increasing to $4,000 for a fifth unit, and then to $8,000 for each additional unit thereafter.

“I’m one of those people who thinks current zoning does not allow short-term rentals. I think it is a change that matches where the city is going,” Duson said.

The committee has expressed its support for short-term rentals as a way to help homeowners earn income that may help pay increasing city property taxes.

“The single owner model can be a way for people to stay in their homes,” Duson said. “We still have to balance it to reduce impact on neighborhoods.”

After months of hearings and testimony, the committee presented its first set of recommendations on “housing insecurity” to the full City Council in October. Those measures, including requiring more advance notice on rent increases and requiring tenants and landlords to review and sign paperwork explaining their rights, took effect last week.

Duson said the year’s work was not fully reflected in the ordinance amendments.

“We created a deep and broad record on current housing in the city. We have a pretty good sense of data,” she said. “It is up on the website and indexed. We know what it we are basing decisions on.”

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.