Today, Maine DSA for a Livable Portland filed paperwork with the City of Portland to pursue four citizen initiatives for November 2022. These referenda are a bid to make the city that we love and reside in livable: not only for business owners, not only for landlords, developers, and seasonal residents, not only for the 1%, not only for tourists.
Portland must be livable for Portland’s workers, Portland’s tenants, Portland’s families and Portland’s most vulnerable— the entire working class that calls Portland home.
Maine DSA’s 2020 People First Portland campaign showed the establishment that when we work together and organize we are capable of achieving meaningful, progressive change that materially benefits us all. Until we have leaders who are willing and able to fight for us, we, the people of Portland, will have to lead by example.
With these four initiatives, we are pushing forward on the issues that impact the vast majority of those who work and reside in Portland: workers’ rights, affordable, stable and accessible housing, quality of life, and climate change. It has become increasingly difficult for working class folks to live in Portland, and many of our friends, neighbors and newest arrivals have been pushed out as City Hall caters to bosses and landlords, leaving the rest of us to either fend for ourselves or leave. Instead, we’ve chosen to organize
Our first referendum item looks to raise the minimum wage for every worker in Portland to $18 an hour and eliminate the sub-minimum wage for service workers. Despite gains made by our 2020 victory, inflation, alongside the stark disparity between what we are paid by our bosses, and the value that we create for them, has made it clear that $15 is simply not enough. Tips made by workers should go on top of that living wage, not simply make up the difference. To protect the rights of the many, the referendum also establishes a city-run Department of Labor, ensuring employer accountability and placing more power in the hands of the workers, who are the lifeblood of our economy, the engine which has allowed our local businesses, large and small, to succeed and endure in the worst pandemic in 100 years. Simply put: every person that works in Portland should be able to afford to live in Portland.
Our second initiative strengthens tenant protections and offers a toolkit for tenants to organize and fight back against landlords that view us as disposable financial liabilities. While Portland’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance helped prevent the sort of heinous rent spikes like those which are currently forcing South Portland residents out of their homes, landlords continue to look for ways to make life for tenants unaffordable, while the City’s housing department does virtually nothing to make sure landlords abide by the law. Our referendum fights no-cause evictions, removes the incentive for landlords to convert long term rentals into condos, eliminates burdensome rental fees, reduces upfront costs to renters, and enables tenants to fight together as a union, rather than alone. Tenants should be able to live in Portland without the fear of eviction or being nickel and dimed out of an affordable place to live.
Our third item is an act to reduce the number of short-term rentals in Portland. Rental stock has diminished as Airbnb has pushed its way into town, hollowing out the city and tearing apart deeply-rooted communities in the name of some quick cash. In 2020, Airbnb spent tens of thousands of dollars to fight our referendum, and they narrowly won. This time around we’ve made some key changes– among them the ability for homeowners that live in duplexes to use their unoccupied unit as a short term rental– and though we’re up for another fight, we’re confident that it’s become clear that destroying community in exchange for the capital of a few is a losing bargain.
Finally, we’re pushing for heavy restrictions on cruise ships, limiting the amount of passengers that are allowed to disembark to 1,000 per day. Aside from the fact that many of these passengers spend their time on shore doing scavenger hunts that don’t go past Fore Street, the megaships consume massive amounts of fossil fuel, and, in a single ten-hour stay in port they create 34,000 trucks worth of particulate matter. Add to that all the congestion, litter, and pressure on city services when these ships arrive downtown, and better regulation becomes essential for a more livable city and planet.
[Maine DSA has since rescinded support for the cruise ship referendum after reaching a compromise with organized labor on the waterfront].
This slate of referenda, which you can read about in more detail here, was built by Maine DSA’s Portland Campaign Committee, which was created during our annual convention last January. Over the past few months, we’ve worked alongside dozens of stakeholders, policy-experts and affected communities to craft a campaign plan that fits our values. Earlier this month, Chapter membership amended and approved this plan, and, with the help of attorneys, we’ve honed it into the final language we are filing today.
We hope each of these initiatives can serve as a rallying point for everyone in Portland that wants to make our city resilient, textured, and accessible. In the coming weeks we will be gathering the 1,500 signatures needed to place these on the ballot. We need your help– your skills, your insight, and your labor– to make this a reality. Please sign on to be a part of our campaign here!
The Maine DSA Local Campaign Committee: