Portland officials say they are weighing a fee that would be charged to new hotel developers to help pay for more affordable housing. The hefty $5,000 per room fee would fund affordable housing programs in the city which recently ranked among the most expensive real estate markets in the nation.

Developer Joe Dasco says it almost makes sense. But he said that he feels the restaurants should also pay a fee. “I can understand the justification for any industry that relies on a low-wage workforce and the linkage to housing. What’s different from the hotel (and) the restaurant industry?”

Maine Innkeepers Association CEO Steve Hewins says the real problem is a lack of regional public transportation that would allow workers to commute from more affordable communities into Portland. This is a really interesting take: Hewins essentially says that service industry workers, whose wages are by and large too low to afford Portland’s housing market, should have to live in potentially more affordable surrounding communities and not in Portland, but also that there should be a publicly-funded transportation system to bring them into the city.

“I can understand the justification for any industry that relies on a low-wage workforce and the linkage to housing. What’s different from the hotel (and) the restaurant industry?”

The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority has long supported rail extension to Lewiston-Auburn, but prioritized a Brunswick extension instead in part because of tourism demands and a desire to help spur growth at the recently closed Brunswick Naval Air Station. NNEPRA has proposed extending the line north from Brunswick to Rockland and planned a trial run this year but later pulled out.

Meanwhile, Saco and Biddeford have their own transit agencies that provide commuter links to Portland, and new METRO routes have brought or will bring Freeport, Yarmouth, and Gorham into the system. But the lack of a regional transportation system like Boston’s MBTA, Burlington’s Green Mountain Transit, or Providence’s RIPTA keep Portland’s transportation network confusing.

But hotel developers do bear more of the responsibility than Hewins is willing to admit. Hotel construction has outpaced new residential construction in Portland. The Federated Companies even proposed converting part of their Midtown project to hotels instead of apartments, although the city declined to allow it (Midtown has its own problems anyway).

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