It seems the city of Portland in the past few years has been more eager to provide for a tourist carrying cash and credit cards than a person carrying the burdens of everyday survival.
Homelessness is on the rise in Portland. From 2011 to 2012, the total number of people the Oxford Street Shelter provided a bed for increased from 1,667 to 2,079, a 25 percent increase. The number of people experiencing homelessness has increased steadily since 2009.
Despite these alarming statistics, the city has repeatedly demonstrated its preference to attract tourists over helping those who desperately need assistance. Within the past couple of years, Portland has aided and supported the creation and renovation of several venues by wealthy property developers in Portland.
The Civic Center renovations and the proposed development on the Forefront at Thompson’s Point should be ringing some bells. The City Council supported, and Cumberland County voters approved, a $33 million bond to fund the renovations currently being done at the Cumberland County Civic Center. A year later when the next group of 1-percenters came crawling, the city readily granted them a $30 million tax break to develop a multimillion-dollar project on the Forefront at Thompson’s Point, which will include a hotel, an office building, an event venue for the Maine Red Claws, a parking lot, and a sports medicine facility.
As if we don’t already have enough hotels, office spaces and event venues in Portland. All you have to do is take a drive down Forest Avenue to see the plethora of ‘For Lease’ signs that cling to the walls of abandoned office space or take a gander at several of the multistory hotels on Fore Street. To top it all off, the City Council recently sold a portion of Congress Square to RB Portland LLC so that it can be used as an “event center.” This square was one of the few public places in the city where people experiencing homelessness and poverty could spend their days.
Looking back at the past couple of years, it is clear the city is eager to create a playground for tourists while ignoring the necessity to provide more affordable housing to those living in poverty.
So how much affordable housing does the city allow for its homeless and low-income community members?
In 2012, the city accepted $2 million from the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s HOME program. In 2012, the city gave $775,000 of this to Avesta Housing to develop affordable apartments throughout the Greater Portland area. So far this year, the city council has allocated $1.2 million to Avesta Housing.
The fact that the city has supported and granted $2 million for the development of affordable housing in the past two years but provided tens of millions of dollars for the development of tourist hot spots is unacceptable given the growing rates of poverty and homelessness in Portland. Picking the wallets of tourists should never be more important than caring for people experiencing poverty and homelessness here in our community.
Robert Marcroft of Portland is a student in the School of Social Work at the University of Southern Maine.