Phil Harriman (left) and Ethan Strimling. Credit: Gabor Degre / BDN

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Ethan: I so enjoy bragging about the effectiveness of progressive policies. Have you seen the impact of Portland’s Green New Deal and rent control? No rent increases on tenants for 19 months, the tallest building in Maine is being built and all 263 units will be rent controlled, and while Portland approved nine Inclusionary zoning units in 2020, they approved three times as many since the city’s Green New Deal passed!

Phil: While you are celebrating there’s a storm brewing. According to MaineBiz, most future housing development has ground to a virtual stop.

Ethan: MaineBiz is now a reputable news source? That article was a press release from the Boulos Company disguised as a news story. Thankfully, both the Bangor Daily News and Portland Press Herald wrote articles making clear that development indeed has not ground to a halt.

Phil: Regardless of who paid for the study, the numbers are factual. Over 900 units of housing were approved in 2021, but only 129 of those were post-Green New Deal. That is an 80 percent drop-off.

Ethan: Except all of the 792 units you mention, will operate under rent control. Remember how Portland landlords said that rent control would kill housing development?

Phil: Rent control creates other problems we will discuss below. It’s the Green New Deal that those in development are now pointing to as making it too risky to invest in Portland.

Ethan: Except that’s also not true. We had a big bump prior to the Green New Deal going into effect because developers wanted to beat the new regulations. After the deluge, there’s always a lull.

Phil: But that’s the point. These business people saw that under the new rules they wouldn’t be able to build their projects, so they expedited their applications. Doesn’t that tell you something about your initiative?

Ethan: Yeah, it shows that excessive profit is more important than providing affordable housing for some developers, so they scrambled to beat the deadline. But now that the rules are fully in place, the market is adjusting. As I said above, we have three times as many private sector affordable units than we had a year ago. And these units are actually more affordable.

Phil: And what of rent control? From what I hear, landlords are evicting tenants to get the additional bump in allowable rent, and are increasing rents on tenants more quickly because they only get a certain amount every year.

Ethan: Unfortunately, some landlords are trying to manipulate the law to the detriment of tenants (talk to my tenants union). But no landlord is forced to evict anyone or raise rents more than they would otherwise. They may choose to do that, but thankfully the law now caps how much and how fast. Now they simply have to spread increases out over more years.

Phil: What you are calling manipulation is the predictable cat-and-mouse game between councilors/regulators and the dreaded private-sector entrepreneurs. This happens when you try too hard to control the free market, it simply motivates landlords to maximize every dollar as soon as they can before more regulations descend upon them.

Ethan: Which is why progressive policies implemented as soon as possible are so important. We must use our majority before the diversity of Maine’s largest city morphs into an exclusive sanctuary for the elite.

Phil: Or you could create a hospitable approval process with incentives for the environmental goals you seek. Plus, make standards for affordable housing actually affordable and then let the free market determine what the rent is.

Ethan: Yeah, we tried that for our first 200 years. Look what it got us.