Community aid groups scramble as coming cold snap puts unhoused people at risk / by Evan Popp

Photo: Francisco Javier Medina Gomez/ Creative Commons

Originally publishd in the Maine Beacon on February 1, 2023

Temperatures are set to drop precipitously in Maine later this week, creating dangerous conditions for unhoused people, with community aid groups scrambling to find shelter and services for those in need. 

An Arctic front will bring harsh cold to the state Friday and Saturday, and temperatures are projected to reach as low as 30 and 40 degrees below zero with the wind chill factored in. 

Maine’s annual point-in-time count of unhoused people from 2022 found that 4,441 people were homeless in January of that year, a sharp increase from the year before—meaning that thousands will likely be in danger from the upcoming weather system. 

That comes as Maine’s housing crisis — a significant contributing factor to homelessness — continues to escalate, with prices rising and thousands of people on voucher waiting lists. Further, evictions in the state rose 27% in 2022 over the previous year, with the end of emergency rental assistance contributing to that growth. At the same time, advocates have argued that cities such as Bangor, Portland and other local communities — along with state government —haven’t done enough to set up services to help unhoused people and have instead sometimes resorted to clearing out homeless encampments, leaving gaps that mutual aid organizations have attempted to fill.    

In Bangor, for example, the group Needlepoint Sanctuary of Maine — in conjunction with other community aid organizations — is raising funds this week to provide warmth and shelter during the coming cold snap. The organization, which has long done mutual aid work at homeless encampments in the Bangor area, is looking to raise $5,000. 

“Across Maine temperatures will plummet this weekend,” the group’s fundraiser reads. “For many Mainers this will mean a few days of bundling up on the way to work and hunkering down at home, but for community members experiencing homelessness or insecure housing, this cold snap could result in death if they are unable to find shelter.” 

Needlepoint said the money raised will go toward buying hotel rooms for unhoused people in Bangor as well as Sanford, with any additional funds going to buying food and warm gear for unhoused people and creating care packages for partner organizations to distribute. Questions can be directed to or by calling 207-370-4782. 

The group is also calling on local municipalities to address the coming cold weather by working with the community to create additional warming centers to provide shelter overnight from Thursday evening until Sunday morning. 

The Bangor Daily News reported Tuesday that there are five warning centers currently operating in the city. Those include the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter at 263 Main Street, the Union Street Brick Church at 126 Union Street, the Mansion Church at 96 Center Street, the River Church at 146 Center Street and the Bangor Public Library at 145 Harlow Street. 

In addition, the Unitarian Universalist Society of Bangor is allowing Needlepoint Sanctuary to run an overnight warming shelter at its church at 120 Park Street. That shelter will be in operation from 6 p.m. to noon Thursday into Friday, 6 p.m. to noon Friday into Saturday, and 6 p.m. to 10 a.m. Saturday into Sunday. The group is looking for volunteers to sign up for four hour shifts during those times.

A list of statewide emergency shelters can be found here. In addition, other communities are already setting up plans to create pop-up warming shelters during the cold snap.

Another place that will be providing help this weekend is Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter and Services in Waterville. Katie Spencer White, CEO of that group, said in addition to its 48-bed shelter, the organization will be operating a warming shelter staying open 24 hours a day this weekend to help people survive the cold. The warming center and the group’s shelter are located at 19 Colby Street in Waterville. 

Spencer White added that the organization’s facilities are low-barrier, meaning they don’t have sobriety tests and also accept people with pets. She said that is a rarity among shelters in Maine, with only a handful of low-barrier options receiving funding.

Spencer White said she’s often asked at times like these what people can do to help. While supplies such as clothing and food can be useful, she said financial donations are the most beneficial. While the group’s homeless shelter receives funding, warming centers don’t generally receive external support, Spencer White explained, making the continued operation of such centers reliant on donations and community aid. 

Moving forward, Spencer White said she would like to see more state and federal help for shelters and warming centers as policymakers also work to create affordable housing to address homelessness in the long-run.

“We solve homelessness through housing,” she said. “But it is also the case that we need good shelter options today, and we would like to see more investment.” 

Groups in the Portland area are also mobilizing in preparation for the cold temperatures. One such organization is the grassroots community organization Maine Needs, which this week is asking for donations of warm blankets; zero degree sleeping bags; waterproof mittens and gloves; waterproof boots; hand and toe warmers; and gift cards to stores such as True Value, Hannaford and Walmart to help people fill up propane tanks. The group can receive donations Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. (with hours going until 7 p.m. on Tuesday) and Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon at 332 Forest Avenue in Portland. 

There will also be several warming shelters available in Portland during the cold weather, including the First Parish Church at 425 Congress Street on Friday and Saturday from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. and the Downtown library at 5 Monument Square on Friday until 5 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

Evan Popp studied journalism at Ithaca College and interned at the Progressive magazine, ThinkProgress and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. He then worked for the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper before joining Beacon. Evan can be reached at

Maine News: With Redbank purchase, housing advocates warn of rise of corporate landlords in Maine / by Dan Neumann

Photo: A two-unit residence at Redbank Village in South Portland from the complex’s website.

Originally published in the Beacon on July 26, 2022

A few months after property management firm JRK Property Holdings of Los Angeles took over Redbank Village, a 500-unit apartment complex in South Portland where some tenants pay subsidized rent, they began sending out notices that rent would be going up.

JRK is a large corporate landlord with a portfolio of over 80,000 units across 30 states. The firm has been accused of several practices that large rental companies often use to maximize their profits, including hiking rents, displacing long-term tenants through evictions, and tenant harassment.

Housing advocates warn that this growing category of landlord has made displacing tenants part of their business model.

“The corporate consolidation of housing is really the greatest threat to the housing market today,” said Katie Goldstein, the director of housing campaigns for the Center for Popular Democracy. “We’re seeing corporate landlords who are responsible to investors to return as much profit as possible. The way to do that is through evictions, tenant turnover, raising rents and reducing services.”

She added, “Corporate landlords are able to buy up huge swathes of properties and units. That’s why you have a Los Angeles company buying up properties in Maine. They’re really looking for places that have weak tenant protections to extract as much profit as possible.”

In May, JRK began notifying Redbank residents that it would be raising rents in 2023 up to $2,400 per month, which represented as much as a 35% increase for some tenants who, just five years ago, reported paying $750 a month for a two-bedroom apartment. JRK also began eviction proceedings, threatening to make some residents homeless as rents and housing prices across Maine continue to climb. 

This prompted the South Portland City Council to step in. In June, the council initially planned an eviction ban and rent freeze. However, they struck a deal with JRK for a 10% year-to-year rent increase cap. Now, residents are calling for a longer-term solution.

“How many people can afford a 10% increase every year?” asked Lado Ladoka, a leader of the Maine Immigrant Housing Coalition. Ladoka has been meeting with several Redbank residents who are recent immigrants.

While large corporate landlords are nothing new in Maine, they have taken over an alarmingly large share of the rental market across the country since the 2008 foreclosure crisis. 

For Ladoka and other housing advocates, the growth of corporate landlords pose a unique threat to a worsening affordable housing crisis in Maine, where policymakers continue to grapple with a shortage of about 20,000 affordable housing units with an estimated 27,000 Maine households on the waitlist for Section 8 vouchers.

“The issue facing Redbank tenants is not new nor will it be the last,” Ladoka warned. 

Corporate landlords evict, raise rents more than average

Redbank was built in 1942 as a federal public housing project but has been in private hands since 1956 while maintaining a percentage of its units to be affordable for low-income Mainers. About 50 of the complex’s units are home to residents who pay a portion of their rent with support from Section 8 vouchers.

In November, JRK paid $110 million for Redbank and Liberty Commons, a six-building apartment complex in South Portland with 120 units. Both properties were previously owned by Portland Portfolio II LLC, an entity controlled by ​​Jones Street Investment Partners, a Boston-based real estate firm backed by private equity.

JRK’s website for Liberty Commons advertises “Multi-million dollar renovation — coming soon!” As the Center for Popular Democracy’s Goldstein explained, corporate landlords often justify rent increases through upgrades whose costs they pass onto tenants. Others tools for squeezing profits from renters include increasing fines and fees for things like parking, utilities, late rent payments, or pets. At Redbank, JRK justified its initial call for a 35% increase by alleging rising labor costs and the need for a storage shed. The company said they have plans to spend $6 million to repair and upgrade the property.

While rents are on the rise nationally, growing 5% in May, tenants of large corporate landlords have frequently faced even higher rent and fee increases. They also have faced higher rates of eviction. A recent 15-year study in Boston found that large landlords evicted tenants of single-family homes at two to three times the rate of smaller landlords. 

JRK is no exception. In 2020, the company agreed to pay their Washington tenants $350,000 to settle a lawsuit for violating that state’s eviction moratorium during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“JRK Residential unfairly and deceptively pressured residents to pay outstanding rent by sending numerous threatening emails and notices, sometimes multiple times per day, and making harassing phone calls to tenants or tenants’ workplaces,” read a release from Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

Media reports also reveal complaints made against JRK in Texas, Colorado and California for maintenance delays or neglect, including lack of air conditioning, water leaks and mold.

The need for stronger renter protections 

The rise of large corporate landlords stems from the financialization of the economy that accelerated after the 2008 recession and bled into the rental housing market, explains Mathilde Lind Gustavussen, a PhD candidate in sociology at the Free University of Berlin who researches housing and displacement.

“The post-2008 era has seen the increasing consolidation of rental housing into corporate hands — not just through well-known conglomerates like Blackstone Group and American Homes 4 Rent — but also through smaller investment firms backed by private equity, including investment banks, hedge funds, college endowments, insurance companies, and pension funds,” she wrote in Jacobin in June. “The foreclosure crisis entrenched global finance’s colonization of residential real estate, focused initially on single-family homes but expanding eventually into multifamily rentals.”

Goldstein said the Center for Popular Democracy and its affiliates are trying to organize the tenants of corporate landlords into an organization called Renters Rising to push federal, state and local policymakers for protections.

“We see the solutions as universal rent control and tenant protections and also mass investment in social housing,” she said. “We really need to have government step in to protect tenants from corporate landlords. It’s only going to get worse if we don’t do something really major and transformative.”

Ladoka worries that state and local policy makers in Maine are not up to the task of meeting these powerful economic forces head on. He believes local officials should have never let the formerly federally-subsidized Redbank Village fall into the hands of a corporate landlord, particularly as a major goal for Maine lawmakers is to build new affordable housing.

“It is something we knew very well yet turned a blind eye to,” he said. “My frustration comes when city leadership knows very well these mortgages are about to expire and they do nothing about it and allow those properties to turn into market-rate rentals. Why can’t we retain what is already in the public domain and keep it in the public domain?”

The South Portland City Council is currently working on a rent stabilization ordinance regulating year-to-year increases. The ordinance has reportedly prompted pushback from some landlords and corporate lobbyists.

Ladoka has been urging Redbank residents and other renters in South Portland to push the city council to pass much needed policies like rent control, banning application fees and barring “no cause” evictions.

“We have to be on our toes to ensure that their policy is right,” he said. “Corporate America doesn’t want us to be in the room when these policies are being decided. If working families are not at the table then they will be eaten for lunch.”

Dan Neumann 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