On Rent Control and a Green New Deal, Portland, Maine Voters Go Where Others Don't Dare

Rent control was dealt another high-profile setback in California, and the Green New Deal is a hot button issue stuck in limbo in Congress. Both efforts got the go-ahead from voters in Portland, Maine in November.

2 minute read

December 1, 2020, 6:00 AM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

Free Street

Wangkun Jia / Shutterstock

Jared Brey provides insight into the outcomes of a particularly significant election day in Portland, Maine, where voters approved rent control and a local version of a local Green New Deal (see also Planetizen's complete coverage of local and state election results from the 2020 election).

On rent control, Portland voters achieved a major reversal of a vote on rent control just three years ago, when voters rejected a similar ballot measure by two-thirds of the vote.

Evidently, something has changed. In fact, says Jack O’Brien, who organized the 2017 Fair Rent Portland referendum and helped create the successful effort this year, several things have changed. For one thing, turnout was much higher this year. For another, in the intervening years, jurisdictions like Oregon and New York expanded rent control and rent stabilization. The Black Lives Matter Maine movement put affordable-housing at the center of its agenda. And voters saw that the arguments landlords made against rent control in 2017 — that affordable housing was in the works, and rent control would complicate it — didn’t hold water, O’Brien says.

As for the city's Green New Deal, Brey credits Portland as the first such law to be approved directly by voters.

It would require any project receiving more than $50,000 in public subsidy to include solar or green roofs and to match other energy-efficiency standards, and it would require developers of those projects to meet certain pay standards and employ apprentices on each job. It also increases inclusionary housing standards, so that 25% of units in new projects will be affordable to people earning up to 80% of Area Median Income, which in Portland is just over $100,000 a year for a family of four.

The article includes a lot more insight on the political coalition, and its opponents, that produced these progressive victories in Portland.

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