Affordability and homelessness drive Portland City Council District 1 run
Portland’s housing crisis, the opportunity to live downtown, and the proliferation of upscale condominiums in the East End caused taxes to rise dramatically during the city’s first reassessment in 15 years. On the streets of rapidly changing downtown neighborhoods, the city’s struggle to tackle homelessness unfolds daily.
These are among the issues driving the race for District 1 seat on City Council, an area that includes Bayside, Munjoy Hill, the Old Port and the Islands.
Councilor Belinda Ray is not running for a third term as she is starting a new position on the Greater Portland Council of Governments, a regional planning agency.
Vying for her seat are Sarah Michniewicz, 50, a freelance dressmaker who ran the Bayside Neighborhood Association for four years, and Anna Trevorrow, 39, a medical malpractice paralegal at Norman, Hanson & DeTroy who is a former charter commissioner and is his third term on the school board.
There’s a lot at stake for city council this year, with a third of the nine seats up for grabs and no incumbents seeking re-election.
The next council will be tasked with the crucial selection of a new city manager, who will implement the city’s $ 268 million budget, oversee its roughly 1,400 employees and hire department heads, including the chief of the city. police, a position that will not be filled on November 1. .
The council has other major responsibilities – including getting the city through the pandemic and distributing around $ 38 million in federal coronavirus relief funding. Council members may need to increase the salaries of city staff to retain and attract them as the city’s revenues continue to be impacted by the economic fallout from the pandemic.
After the new council members take office, an ongoing revision of the city’s charter could prompt a restructuring of the city government.
Trevorrow has the benefit of fundraising. Until September 14, she raised $ 4,725 and had everything but $ 161 left. Michniewicz, who was seconded by Mayor Kate Snyder, raised $ 4,500 and had $ 2,584 left.
Election day is November 2, but absentee voting began on Monday.
With city politics becoming more and more polarized, Michniewicz said she was running to give people “a way back to the middle” so that thoughtful decisions could be made.
“’Balance’ is a key word I keep coming back to,” she said.
She believes her experience as a neighborhood advocate is necessary given all the recent changes in municipal government. As the leader of the Bayside Neighborhood Association, she said, she has followed the work of the council closely and gained experience in dealing with a wide range of issues, including homelessness, affordable housing and the problems of sidewalks, street lighting and development infrastructure.
She doesn’t think the growth in school spending is healthy, especially given the weight of the property tax increases of the reassessment on residents of the peninsula. The school district, she said, should not have invested in additional administration to ensure fairness and should have focused more on the basics in the first place, like reducing truancy among students. .
“You can teach fairness as much as you want. But if the student isn’t there to hear it, you fail, she said.
Michniewicz supports the city’s plan to create a 208-bed homeless service center, with day space, a medical clinic and a soup kitchen, in Riverton. But she said that while Portland is a regional service center, she wants other communities to step up to support their own vulnerable residents.
She believes the smaller shelter referendum would “actively harm” homeless people by removing requirements for new shelters to provide day space and be close to public transportation. Scattering smaller shelters around the city, she said, would only make it harder for people to access the services they need to get back on their feet.
“There is a palpable emotional appeal to the small shelters, but they are not economically practical and they are not efficient,” she said. “People are going to get lost in the system.”
To house more people, she would like the city to enforce better the existing rules for short-term rentals, which some residents blame for both the disappearance of affordable housing and the erosion of the neighborhood’s character. She believes that traffic corridors such as Forest and Brighton avenues should be zoned to allow denser housing development. And she would like city leaders to look to leverage more municipal properties to attract co-op housing projects, like the one planned for Douglass Street, aimed at middle-income residents.
She said she would seek a new city manager with the skills of outgoing manager Jon Jennings, as she believes Jennings has been responsive to the needs of the neighborhood while remaining aware of the city’s limited resources.
She has no firm opinion on whether Portland needs a local mask warrant, saying defenders on both sides have made legitimate points.
Trevorrow said she is looking to move from school board to city council so she can work on a wider range of issues. She believes her experience on the board, including her role in finding a superintendent, would be helpful to the board.
“Having someone who already has city-level connections and knows something about the process will be beneficial in terms of a quick start,” she said.
Trevorrow said council needs to consider all options to increase the supply of affordable housing. She said she would like to increase the required percentage of affordable units in certain developments, in what is called inclusive zoning, but was unaware this was done in a citizens’ referendum last fall. and that the board cannot change the percentage for five years.
She said she would like to see some of the vacant downtown commercial space converted into housing, as many businesses continue to allow people to work from home. The city could also reduce the minimum floor space per apartment to increase the housing supply and incentivize landlords to provide long-term affordable housing, either through discounts or direct rent support.
“I’m just looking at creative ideas,” she said.
She pushed back against criticism of the school’s budget, saying the district, in its efforts to advance equity, has invested students in behavioral interventions, English as a second language and pre-kindergarten classes.
“Correcting centuries of institutional biases will require an extended period of sustained commitment to these priorities,” she said.
Trevorrow said she has not decided whether she will vote for the smaller shelter referendum, although she supports the idea in principle. She also wants the city to move forward with its 208 bed homeless service center project in Riverton.
She said she would like a new city manager who shares the council’s goals and values. Although the city has a comprehensive plan, she believes it should be reviewed to make sure it stays up to date, so that it can be used to guide investments and budgeting. This is something the school board did when they looked for a new superintendent, she said.
Trevorrow has backed an unsuccessful proposal to require all school staff without medical exemptions to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and believes the city should adopt an indoor mask mandate for public spaces in light of the current wave. “Other cities have mask mandates and I think Portland should too,” she said.
If elected, Trevorrow said she would consult with the city attorney to see if she would need to recuse herself from any discussions regarding the city’s handling of a citizens’ referendum calling for a clean local election program. Supporters of the measure sued after the city said it had to be reviewed by a charter commission before it could be presented to voters.
Trevorrow is one of the plaintiffs in the ongoing lawsuit against the city, but said she asked for her dismissal.
“I wouldn’t necessarily want to relinquish my responsibility to participate in issues that I was elected to participate in,” she said. “It’s not a conflict of interest. It’s a matter of comfort level with perhaps a perceived level of conflict.
Competition is fierce for an extraordinary seat on Portland City Council