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South Portland considering eviction moratorium amid Redbank Village rent spike

City councilors in South Portland are proposing an eviction moratorium specifically catered to fight against Redbank Village's proposed rent hikes.

SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — Kevin Gilson said it took a long time to find low-income housing suitable for his wheelchair. When he found Redbank Village, he saw a one-story unit for him to stay mobile.

Now he and his family are faced with rent spikes upwards of $600, as proposed by Redbank Village's new landlord, JRK Investment Holdings.

"I'm not sure what we're going to do," Gilson said. "It's an everyday worry whether you're going to have a roof over your head in a couple [of] months."

Gilson said they would not be able to afford the proposed rent of $2,400. They currently pay approximately $2,000, according to Gilson.

"I hope the city does something positive," Gilson said. "What they're doing tonight, hopefully it passes."

Gilson is talking about a proposed eviction moratorium by South Portland city council. The verbiage in the proposal specifically targets Redbank Village.

City councilors attended a workshop Tuesday evening where they worked out a plan for an eviction moratorium, set to be brought to a vote on June 7.

During this workshop, city counselors showed support for the eviction moratorium, with stipulations regarding longer penalties, a longer length of the moratorium, and the addition of rent control or freeze. 

If passed, the eviction moratorium would allow tenants to not be evicted for missing the portion of increased rent at Redbank Village.

South Portland originally requested JRK Investment Holdings and Redbank Village provide evidence they gave tenants a 75-day notice for increasing rent. After missing the city's deadline, JRK Investment Holdings showed evidence they provided most residents with a 75-day notice, according to Code Enforcement Officer Barbara Skelton.

City councilors expressed concern over the eviction moratorium. The current legal language of the proposed ordinance, according to Legal Council Mark Bower, would allow missed rent to accrue while a tenant avoids eviction, only to have to pay it back in November.

Councilor Katherine Lewis said the November date to end the eviction moratorium is a setup for disaster and asked to take an extension on the moratorium "so we don't have 400 families freezing in the streets."

"If we are going to set up a structure like this and the fines aren't deterrent, then we can spend all the time in the world on this and the families are still getting kicked out," Lewis said during the workshop.

Many of the residents said they cannot pay the rent increase.

"What money? I've got lint in this pocket. You want my shirt off my back? Take it," David Morse II, a tenant at Redbank Village, said. "If that means I have food and money to take care of me and my daughter ... it seems more and more rent is going up. I don't know if people will actually step up and change it, but I hope they do."

Maine State Representative Chris Kessler, who represents South Portland and Cape Elizabeth, said councilors need to address rent control if they impose an eviction moratorium.

"A moratorium on evictions for the short term, but rent stabilization for the long term," Kessler said.

"A short-term moratorium on evictions is not going to measurably impact what's going on at Redbank, they need to pass meaningful rent stabilization," Kessler added. "It's completely earth-shattering to families when they don't know where they're going to live." 

Councilors also expressed concern that the eviction moratorium wouldn't reduce the rent already signed into contract by many of the tenants in early May.

Kessler said tenants were coerced into signing early.

"These tenants need it to be retroactive before they [sign] their new lease agreements under coercion," Kessler said. "It really was coercion plain and simple, and I'm willing to bet JRK has been down this road before."

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