PORTLAND — As it considers a sweeping new plan to reduce homelessness, the City Council grappled Monday night with one of its causes: lack of affordable housing.
The council voted unanimously to direct federal funds to a plan for developing 35 affordable apartments at 409 Cumberland Ave. But members of the public used the opportunity to debate the availability and benefit of low-cost housing.
Elizabeth Road resident Benjamin Roberts told councilors that affordable housing is an “easy and quick fix” to the problem of homelessness, but that by reducing the availability of market-rate apartments, it ultimately results in higher rents for everyone.
“While the intentions are good … this is not a true market,” he said.
A Forest Avenue resident claimed that “there’s already a lot affordable housing in Portland,” but that it is being “overrun and abused” by residents who don’t need the low rents or flout housing development rules.
“Portland can’t perpetuate the cycle and encourage more abuse,” the resident said.
Other speakers at the meeting supported the creation of more affordable housing in the city.
“We need to build all types of housing, for all types of people,” said High Street resident Steven Sharp. He also disputed the claim that increasing housing units for low-income residents would drive up rents for others.
Gwen Tuttle, a social worker from Cumberland Avenue, urged the council to “be mindful of the project’s goals” and to remember that the lack of affordable housing isn’t the sole cause of homelessness.
“I suggest that the council redirect some of this energy to the other issues that impact homelessness,” such as mental illness and substance abuse, she said.
Tuttle is a Republican running for election to the Maine House of Representatives in District 119, which covers Bayside, East Bayside and Parkside.
Earlier in the evening, the council participated in a workshop to learn more about recommendations of the city’s Homeless Prevention Task Force.
The recommendations, made public two weeks ago, call for creating a centralized process for assessing homeless people; building three, 35-unit housing facilities; and expanding case management services to better match the needs of clients.
The council is scheduled to discuss the plan at its Nov. 5 meeting.
In other business, the council unanimously passed a resolution supporting the passage of Question 1, the Nov. 6 statewide referendum asking if Maine should issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Councilor Nicholas Mavodones introduced the resolution, which also urges Portland residents to vote yes on the measure.
“The city of Portland embraces equality and fair treatment for all residents including the freedom to marry for loving, committed couples. … Rights and responsibilities are currently denied to the gay and lesbian citizens in the state of Maine,” the resolution said.
It also noted that in 1992, the council passed the first ordinance in Maine granting protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation.