Facing massive corporate opposition, Portland increases tenant protections but not minimum wage

Photo of Portland by Corey Templeton

After being outspent by their corporate opposition 54 to one, grassroots organizers in Portland were able to pass one ballot measure on Tuesday increasing tenant protections amid a statewide housing crisis, but measures to raise the minimum wage and restrict short-term rentals both failed.

Portland voters also approved six changes to their city charter, but voted against a hotly disputed change to city governance that would have replaced the unelected city manager position with an executive mayor.

On Tuesday, 55% of Portland voters supported Question C, which limits annual rent increases to 70% of the Consumer Price Index. The measure also bans application fees and large deposits and requires landlords to provide 90-days notice if they terminate a lease.

Additionally, 55% of Portland voters said “no” to Question B, which would have limited short-term rentals like AirBnBs to owner-occupied or tenant-occupied buildings such as duplexes. The unsuccessful measure would have returned over 300 existing short-term rentals back to long-term housing, its supporters say. 

A competing measure to regulate short-term rentals, Question A, also failed to pass. Question A was submitted by AirBnB owners and sought to ban out-of-state owners, but would have allowed all of the city’s registered short-term rentals to be grandfathered in under the law, returning no units to the housing market. The measure was opposed by 56% of voters.

Question D, which sought to increase the minimum wage to $18 an hour over three years, lost with 39% of the vote, despite gaining endorsements from prominent national political figures like Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. 

The measure was considered one of the most progressive minimum wage proposals in the country. It applied to gig workers, who are classified as independent contractors and lack full employment rights. It would have also eliminated the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers, a vestige of the exploitation of Black labor after slavery.

A referendum eliminating the sub-minimum wage for servers in Washington, D.C won on Tuesday.

All three ballot measures were part of the “Campaign for a Liveable Portland,” led by Maine Democratic Socialists of America, who faced well-funded opposition backed by the National Restaurant Association, Uber, DoorDash and local real estate and business lobbies. 

Political groups like Enough is Enough and Restaurant Industry United raised a combined $1.2 million to defeat the ballot measures. 

“They spent $134,000 on mailers, $35,000 on radio and YouTube ads, and another $26,000 on their website. It is absurd how much money these people will spend to protect their profits,” Maine DSA wrote in an email to supporters on Sunday. “In comparison, we have raised and spent $22,000. That is a 54-1 ratio! A ratio we are very proud of because our campaign is people powered, not profit powered.”

Portlanders vote down governance change, school board autonomy

Enough is Enough and the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce also opposed the Portland Charter Commission’s recommendation in Question 2 to eliminate the city manager position.

65% of Portland voters opposed Question 2, marking a disappointing culmination of a campaign sparked by racial justice organizers in 2020 during the George Floyd uprisings who highlighted the racist history of the unelected city manager position, created in 1923 to ostensibly constrain popular control of the city from a mostly Catholic and Jewish immigrant working class.

They protested that the city manager has more institutional power than the city’s elected mayor, having the authority to propose city budgets, hire and fire city personnel and manage much of the daily operations of city hall. 

Question 2 would have changed the city manager position to a chief administrator under the mayor.

Another contentious proposed change to the city charter, Question 5, was defeated with 58% opposed. The proposal would have taken control over school budget making from the city council, which currently controls the process, and given it to the school board.

Portland voters backed six other recommendations by the Portland Charter Commission, however. Several members of the commission said they believe their recommendations will lead to a more democratic city government that is responsive to the needs of its working-class residents. 

65% supported Question 1, which revises the existing preamble of the city charter and adds a land acknowledgment to address and respect the people indigenous to the region. It notes that Portland is “located in the unceded territory of the Aucocisco Band of the Wabanaki, which also includes the Abenaki, Maliseet, Mi’kmaq, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot people.”

65% supported Question 3, which establishes a voluntary clean election fund that would provide public campaign money to qualified candidates running for municipal offices.

64% supported Question 4, which directs the city council to enact an ordinance to establish ranked-choice voting.

66% supported Question 6, which sets the powers, duties and membership requirements for the Peaks Island Council, which is an elected advisory body to the city council.

61% supported Question 7, which replaces the city’s established Police Citizens Review Subcommittee with a nine-member civilian police review board with funding and staffing.

70% supported Question 8, which requires the city council to create an independent ethics commission and to adopt a code of ethics.

Photo of Portland by Corey Templeton.

About Dan Neumann

Avatar photoDan studied journalism at Colorado State University before beginning his career as a community newspaper reporter in Denver. He reported on the Global North's interventions in Africa, including documentaries on climate change, international asylum policy and U.S. militarization on the continent before returning to his home state of Illinois to teach community journalism on Chicago's West Side. He now lives in Portland. Dan can be reached at dan(at)mainebeacon.com.

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