SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — Low-income residents in South Portland face a rent spike, and many of them are concerned about the future.
"I would live in my car to keep them in their schools, but I don't have a car," one woman said in this week's South Portland City Council meeting.
The woman, who didn't want to use her name as she said she's a Redbank Village resident, asked city councilors for an emergency declaration to pause evictions in the low-income neighborhood, which is seeing a rent increase of hundreds of dollars.
She joined more than 40 public commenters who attended the meeting on Tuesday night, asking the city council to take action.
Now the city is taking action, as the city manager recently sent a letter to Redbank's landlord, demanding evidence they legally are raising the rent.
Earlier this year, California-based property management company JRK Property Holdings took over Redbank. But property ownership changes aren't anything new, according to six-year resident David Morse II.
But what is different, he said, is the steep rent increase.
"I'm just trying to survive. I don't need another knife in my back," Morse said. "They don't want to fix anything. They don't want to repair anything. They don't want to update anything. They just want our money."
Morse told NEWSCENTER Maine his rent is going up from $1,500 a month to $2,100. He said he's at risk of homelessness.
"I don't know where I'm going to go with the waiting list for housing and stuff like that. I don't know when I'm going to get that I don't have the money to pay for that. The rent I'm making is chump change," Morse said.
Morse said he's applied for rental assistance, but it's nearly impossible to manage between caring for his daughter and working.
"I'm not rich. I'm not looking to get more. I'm trying to maintain what I have here, a roof over our head and food in our belly. I got food stashed in my car just to make sure I have food for her. I don't even have enough to pay for the roof," Morse said.
After dozens voiced their concern during this week's city council meeting, calling for an eviction moratorium, City Manager Scott Morelli and Code Enforcement Director Barbara E. Skelton sent a letter to JRK Investors.
In it, they demanded all evidence that JRK and Redbank issued rent increases to tenants with at least 75 days of warning under a South Portland city ordinance.
NEWS CENTER Maine reached out to JRK but did not hear back.
NEWS CENTER Maine called Redbank Village to ask if they gave tenants 75 days of warning before the rent increase, and a person on the other line said, "No comment." When pressed further, they hung up the phone.
If JRK cannot provide documents to the city, then the 75-day notice would reset to when the letter was sent out, according to State Rep. Victoria Morales, D-South Portland.
"We believe this is the most important issue of the day right now, and we're going to take action," Morales said.
Morales said the city might institute a moratorium on evictions in South Portland, with rules specifically tailored to match the Redbank situation.
She also said that if renters fear for their safety or security regarding housing, they can contact the following options: