I can’t say I’m surprised.
The Press Herald is reporting that a group of Portland residents on Munjoy Hill have filed a lawsuit to prevent the construction of affordable housing in the area. The gist of the lawsuit is that a few wealthy property owners (to give you a hint at the make up of the group, only one lives there year-round) are suing the property and the city because the proposed housing is too tall and too ugly.
This, of course, is not the first housing project to be scuttled or delayed by lawsuits. In the last couple years, a similar group used lawsuits to delay and harass a project on the peninsula that would have added over 800 much needed units to the city’s housing market. Ultimately, the group’s threats reduced the number of units by about half, depriving the Portland residents of housing options, and keeping costs artificially high.
Also, remember the scenic view ordinance that was on the Portland ballot in November? That ballot initiative, targeting one property in particular, would have prevented any construction that would block views of Casco Bay and the surrounding scenery. Essentially, a number of wealthy Portlanders were abusing the city’s citizens’ initiative process in order to keep their scenic views at the expense of any development in Portland.
Thankfully, Portland residents soundly rejected that proposal, partly because they’re tired of this city’s housing crunch being exacerbated by the city’s most well off. They’re tired of seeing wealthy people benefiting from scenic views and limited development as Portland rents skyrocket.
If Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling really wants to address the city’s housing crisis, and he claims he does, then he needs to address this broken system as a whole–note piecemeal. Even if proposals like inclusionary zoning or rent control were a good idea (they’re not), they’d have a negligible effect on the city’s housing market. Sure, a few people would benefit, but it would do nothing to stem the ever increasing cost of renting in Portland.
To drive down rents in Portland, the city needs a massive injection of market price rental units. Increasing the supply of units, not matter at what price, will drive down rent in all Portland units. That’s basic economics. That level of development, however, will never happen unless Portland reforms its insane zoning regulations. Zoning requirements that mandates buildings’ height, size, and design seriously limit the housing stock in Portland by discouraging developers and allowing a few property owners to delay and harass any proposal they don’t like. They overwhelmingly benefit Portland’s most well off at the expense of its poorest residents, allowing them to file suits to delay or prevent new developments that could ease the city’s housing crunch.
I’m sick and tired of a few people on Munjoy Hill controlling the future of this city. Portland’s poorest are being squeezed out of the city by unreasonably high rents just so a few wealthy property owners can keep their pristine ocean view. If the city’s leaders want to unleash Portland’s potential, then they’ll revisit the its onerous zoning regulations and give it a chance to thrive.