Maine DSA launches list of ballot measures to make Portland ‘liveable’

Hoping to rely on ballot wins of the 2020 People First Portland campaign that passed rent control, green housing standards and a $15 minimum wage, the Maine Democratic Socialists of America are now collecting signatures for a new referendum slate aimed at making the largest Maine city more accessible to Portland workers.

Maine DSA picked up papers in Portland for four voting initiatives. They include raising the city’s minimum wage to $18 an hour, strengthening renter protections, and regulating short-term rentals and cruise ships.

“These referendums are an attempt to make the city we love and live in livable: not just for business owners, not just for landlords, developers and seasonal residents, not just for the 1%, not just only for tourists,” the volunteer leader of the new “Campaign for a Liveable Portland” wrote on June 2. Publish on the Maine DSAs Pine & Roses news sites.

The campaign stems from a lack of action by the Portland City Council, organizers say, on the rising cost of living in the city due to inflation and skyrocketing house prices.

“We haven’t seen a ton of action from the council in terms of workers’ rights, housing, tenants’ rights or the environment,” said Wes Pelletier, one of the campaign organizers. Available Portland. “It’s important for us to hold that line and make sure Portland gets these things done, rather than sitting back and allowing the status quo.”

A minimum wage of $18

Signs ahead of the November 2020 election in support of People First Portland’s ballot initiatives. | Image via People First Portland

In 2020, 60.4% of Portland voters said “yes” to a ballot measure to create a $15 minimum wage with a time-and-a-half emergency hazard pay, or $22 of the hour. Since then, the city council has largely rejected voter-approved hazard pay provisions. Earlier this year, the council struck a proposal to require hazard pay for workers when there is a mask mandate in the city.

Now the Livable Portland campaign is collecting signatures to raise the minimum wage to $18 an hour over three years and eliminate the sub-minimum for tipped workers.

“$15 isn’t enough anymore,” Pelletier said, pointing to the ever-increasing housing and other costs in the city.

Previous attempts to eliminate tip wages, a remnant of slavery, failed at the state level. The restaurant industry has long argued that tipping would decline if tipping wages were eliminated, and in response some servers in Maine have opposed its elimination in the past. But Portland organizers hope attitudes in the low-wage service sector have changed, especially in light of the pandemic and its impacts on service sector workers. A Survey 2021 found that 78% of Maine restaurant workers supported raising the federal minimum wage for tipped workers to $15 per hour.

In Maine, the tipped minimum wage is currently $6.38 an hour, which is half the state’s base wage of $12.75 an hour for untipped workers.

“For restaurant workers, a lot of them have to pool tips, which is pay theft,” Pelletier said. “We want to make sure each person earns at least $18 an hour. People who receive tips should receive tips in addition to this salary. It seems like common sense.

Better rent control

Maine DSA succeeded in the 2020 election to advance tenants’ rights after years of groundwork laid by housing activists, the last being an unsuccessful 2017 campaign led by Fair Rent Portland. DSA passed a Rent Control Act which established a Rent Board, limited rent increases to only once a year and prohibited annual increases of more than 10%.

But landlords still have incredible power over their tenants in the city, and organizers hope to build on what they’ve learned since 2020.

The new referendum would grant greater authority to the rent commission to ensure that landlords receive a fair return on investment and that tenant complaints receive a fair hearing. It would also allow tenant unions to represent tenants before council, which is currently not allowed.

“We’ve learned that the city isn’t being very proactive in enforcing rent protections,” said Pelletier, who also organized a tenants’ union in the building where he resides. “My tenants’ union had a hard time convincing the city to enforce the laws. It will be an ongoing challenge. But the tenants talk to each other. They feel like they have an opportunity for protection and the empowerment of the rent board is a big part of that.

The new proposal aims to reduce tenants’ costs by setting annual rent increases at 70% of the Consumer Price Index (CPI), as well as limiting deposits to one month’s rent and banning fees of the folder.

The measure also provides 90 days notice for lease termination or rent increases, discourages evictions without cause by allowing rent increases for voluntary rollover, and sets a $25,000 fee for condominium conversions. Second attempt to regulate short-term rentals

The only ballot defeat People First Portland experienced in 2020 was a proposal to restrict short-term rentals like Airbnb and VRBO to owner-occupied residences. Portland voters opposed the measure at 52.1% after Airbnb paid money in the local election in opposition to the initiative.

Organizers hope voters’ understanding of the pitfalls of unregulated short-term rentals, such as shrinking a community’s housing stock and raising rents, has also changed in mid-Maine. worsening housing crisis.

“Every neighborhood in Portland is used to seeing people with suitcases walking in and out of Airbnbs that should be places for renters to live,” Pelletier said. “I think the perception around Airbnbs has changed since 2020. I think it’s a bit clearer what kind of racket they are. It’s not necessarily cheaper than just taking a hotel.

Taking stock of what they have learned in 2020, the organizers have adjusted the short-term rental proposal. The current proposal would allow short-term rentals in owner-occupied two-unit buildings, such as a landlord who owns a two-bedroom apartment and rents out one of the floors.

To keep neighbors informed, the measure would also require the City Clerk to notify all residents within 500 feet of a registered short-term rental unit.

Tackling the cruise ship industry

The Livable Portland campaign is also taking on the cruise ship industry, which dominates the city’s waterfront during tourist season.

They are proposing to limit the number of passengers who can disembark into the city from cruise ships to a maximum of 1,000 people per day. Cruise ships made 409 calls and brought 450,000 passengers in Maine in 2019, before the pandemic. The initiative, if successful, would come into effect in 2025.

The measure attempts to confront the environmental impacts of cruise ships and what organizers say is an exaggerated economic benefit to Portland businesses.

“You can’t enter the Old Port right now,” Pelletier said. “These people don’t go out to eat. They don’t really go beyond Fore Street. This essentially closes the city off to everyone except people getting off that cruise ship.

The proposal is inspired by campaigns led by progressives in other cities dominated by tourism, such as Bar Harbor, Key West and Barcelona. The idea is to reclaim some degree of local control over Portland, Pelletier explained.

“We are absolutely looking for those kinds of moves in terms of our campaign and how we convey those things,” he said. “It’s basically people living in a tourist economy rethinking how to make the place they live in livable.”

Top Portland photo by Corey Templeton.

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