2016-07-29 / Community

My side of the bridge

Housing in So. Portland and Cape – up, up, and away
By Don Russell

Disclaimer: Don Russell is a local real estate agent and his opinions are his own and do not reflect his agency’s or profession.

South Portland and Cape Elizabeth real estate has been about as hot as our temperatures lately. People want in, the average sale prices continue to climb and many are more than willing to pay well beyond list to compete, and then live in our two great towns.

According to a recent check of the Maine Multiple Listing Service, Cape Elizabeth has 45 active residences for sale, with 29 pending or under contract. In South Portland, the lack of inventory and overall feeding frenzy is even more noticeable. With 40 active homes and 60 pending, South Portland is sizzling, with most sales featuring less than a week on the market, and multiple offers.

This of course is all good news for sellers, not so good for buyers (especially those on a budget), and worse for renters (note that nearly 40 percent of South Portland’s residents are tenants), dealing with a throng of competition, average house rental rates far in excess of mortgage values, and whom in some cases have seen lease renewals skyrocket.

Enter Chris Kessler. Kessler adores South Portland, has built strong roots here and has struggled mightily to stay. He is a hard working young man with two beautiful daughters and a lovely wife. This fine family, through pluck and solid contacts, have found a way to remain in town, but many others have not. They have been pushed aside and out to Westbrook and beyond by high housing, low wages and decreasing options.

We can do better, and why wait for the ultimate course correction on such matters known as recession and high interest rates (reference 2008 or worse, as prognosticators say we are due). If not, we run the risk of being communities that cater to only one portion of the diverse socio-economic tapestry we should call home. Residents who have lived here for some time, or native to the area, don’t typically have the same resources as say a “I LOVE MAINE” type from greater Boston who sells their colonial for $800,000 and then finds a tiny bungalow near Willard Beach with no garage as an absolute steal at $400,000. Heck, throw in that they are but a short walk or bike ride from Scratch Bakery and add another $50,000. Everything is relative, and for those with the means from near or away, who covet our housing, lifestyle, bagels, beaches, and short commute, displacement is a statistical hazard.

Kessler started South Portland Tenant Association on Facebook to draw more attention to the core issues and attempt to get some solutions in motion.

“We need to see a stronger effort to increase the supply of housing, both rental and owner-occupied. The city needs to start taking action on years of talking, committees, and planning. We need more projects like the Brick Hill latest phase that is moving forward. We also need to protect or help those who might be dealing with difficult landlords, financial credit hardship, or risk of homelessness. It comes down to having the political will to get things done, and truly understanding the importance and gravity of the issue,” Kessler wrote.

With some councilors also being landlords, that will might be tested. I realize “rent control” and “price control” are dirty words in the land of the free and the greed, and I am not a full advocate of either, but a multi-point, hybrid approach to the issue is worth building.

Tightening rules and reporting to reel in the few bad apple landlords is a place to start. Developing varied housing projects whether single-stick or multiunit, based on density, with a range of buyers and renters in mind would be ideal. Keeping an eye on our end goal of diversity, multi-use where planned, and a need to try to support here now residents first, if possible, is all something to work back from.

Speaking of our here now residents, renters especially, we must get more tangible support from local banks and financial institutions to come together as a group, to educate and to provide special financing options for them to stay as first time home buyers. Let’s get creative and compassionate. As part of a new, not for profit consortium or good neighbor credit association – I would co-sign for the Kesslers, would you?

Don Russell is a local real estate sales agent with The Maine Real Estate Network, and founder of BrandME Marketing. He has proudly lived in South Portland for 20 years. Contact him at don@brandme.net or send a letter to the editor to editor@inthesentry.com. His column appears in the Sentry once a month.

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