South Portland council backs protections for tenants

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SOUTH PORTLAND The City Council on Monday approved the first reading of an ordinance designed to provide more protection for renters.

Councilors also postponed a discussion on whether to appeal new Federal Emergency Management Agency flood maps, and renamed a small city street for one a resident.

The initial vote on the city’s proposed housing security ordinance was 6-1. The ordinance spells out discrimination policies, extends the notice tenants must receive for rent increases from 45 to 75 days, and creates an education program for tenants and landlords. 

The ordinance would prohibit landlords from denying housing to tenants on the basis of race, color, religion, sexual orientation, family status, ancestry, national origin, age, physical or mental disability, or receipt of public assistance.

“As a progressive, I think we need to do more to protect tenants,” Councilor Brad Fox said. “We need to do more, but let’s do this tonight.”

Councilor Eben Rose also agreed the city needs to do more, but said the proposal should at least give tenants a little solace and space.

Councilor Linda Cohen, who voted against the ordinance, said she wanted changes to come from state and federal levels rather than municipalities. Cohen said she did like the education portion of the ordinance.

A final reading will take place Aug. 21.

Flood maps

The council voted to move the flood maps discussion to an Aug. 28 workshop. 

The city is being asked to approve $35,000 to join other southern Maine communities in an appeal of Federal Emergency Management Agency flood maps. The other communities considering the appeal are Kittery, Wells, Kennebunkport, Harpswell and Old Orchard Beach.

“The Federal Emergency Management Agency has tried several times over the last 10 years to update the Flood Insurance Rate Maps for York and Cumberland counties,” Planning Director Tex Haeuser said in a memo to council. “The previous attempts were withdrawn, in part due to methodological problems brought to light by consultants, in particular Robert Gerber, who had been hired by South Portland and other coastal communities.”

According to Haeuser, “The consequence of inaccurate FEMA flood mapping is potentially much higher flood insurance rates for affected property owners and (in certain flood zones) possible limits on being able to rebuild after significant damage.”

City Manager Scott Morelli’s  memo to council said it’s important that FEMA gets the flood maps right.

“If the modeling FEMA uses is correct, then this simply becomes an unfortunate but necessary fact of life for the affected property owners. However, if property owners are incorrectly placed into a higher risk area based on faulty methodology, then these property owners would be subject to unnecessary costs and burdens,” Morelli wrote.

Harpswell, which conditionally committed to the appeal July 20, was expected to make a final decision Thursday about whether to participate. 

New street name

Councilors voted unanimously to rename Acton Street as McLaughlin Way in honor of Steven McLaughlin Sr., who built his house on the street in 1953. His family wrote a letter to the city July 5 requesting the change. 

Melanie Sochan can be reached at 781-3661 ext.106 or msochan@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @melaniesochan.

South Portland City Hall

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