PORTLAND — City councilors decided Monday to combine the Housing Committee and Economic Development Committee, but several members of the public felt it was not the right move for the city.
“Housing doesn’t belong under the banner of economic development. It belongs under the banner of health and human services,” said Kate Sykes, a resident of Alba Street. “It is telling that this is how our city perceives the housing crisis.”
Sykes fears combining the two committees won’t give housing issues the attention they deserve.
“Housing needs more attention, not less,” she said. “We certainly have not solved the housing crisis in Portland, so to combine this committee with another one seems like it misses the mark entirely. It is completely tone deaf.”
Fellow resident Joey Brunelle agreed.
“It reveals what the city thinks the housing issue is,” he said. “Many of us out in the community think housing is a human right. The combination of economic development with housing would suggest the city and the City Council think it is not a human right, but is instead an economic commodity.”
The move, Mayor Kate Snyder said, is in line with a recent decision to combine the city’s Housing Department and Economic Development Department into one department.
Councilor Belinda Ray said it is not uncommon for committees to be combined or separated. Five years ago, the two committees operated together as the Housing and Community Development Committee.
She sees combining the groups again as a “wise move because there is often overlap between the two committees with issues bouncing between the two.”
“I am happy to see how this goes and I think we will find it will make us more efficient in our housing and our community and economic development,” she said. “People shouldn’t be scared of the word ‘economic.’ Let’s not get scared of that word. It does not mean focus on profit. It does not mean profit over people.”