Paula Raymond and Zach Campbell make a presentation Saturday during the Waterville Tenants’ Association’s first meeting at Waterville Senior High School. Zara Norman/Morning Sentinel

WATERVILLE — The newly formed Waterville Tenants’ Association met for the first time Saturday to discuss renters’ rights and possible answers to the area’s housing crisis.

The group, which gathered at Waterville Senior High School, was established in December and is convening as the city considers a number of housing-related initiatives.

The city’s Planning Board is expected to vote soon on a $35 million proposal from Portland-based Renewal Housing Associates LLC to build 63 affordable, mixed-income and workforce housing units in downtown Waterville.

The City Council voted last month to require property owners to register their properties with the city, but only on a voluntary basis.

Members of the tenants’ association said at a meeting Saturday the development proposed for downtown Waterville and other projects are not going far enough to address housing insecurity and renters’ concerns in the area.

According to a 2022 report by News Center Maine, the state has seen a 39% increase in rent since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.


“We’re not seeing a similar increase in our wages,” tenants’ association member Zach Campbell said Saturday. “Tenants have less and less options. We have an ever-growing class of tenants who can’t make it work with exploding rents.”

Campbell said that in a conversation with City Councilor Rebecca Green, D-Ward 4, the tenants’ association was told 65% of households in Waterville are being rented. That is a far cry from the statewide average, which is 27%, he said.

In establishing a tenants’ association, members hope to bring renters into important discussions and debates, educate the public about renters’ rights, share legal resources and advocate for housing policy changes at the local and state levels.

The group’s chair, Jaimie Pelkey, founded the group in December to address tenant concerns in Waterville’s South End. Pelkey said she and many other renters in Waterville have stories about dysfunctional or ill-maintained apartments, available at ever-increasing prices.

At Saturday’s meeting, Pelkey told of the time a maggot dropped from the ceiling of her home and into her coffee cup.

“Everybody deserves a safe place to lay their head down every night,” she said Saturday.


Ashley Hebert, co-chair of the tenants’ association, said her landlord lived in the apartment above hers and controlled the heat — leaving her “freezing” at times in the winter months.

“It can really feel like you’re on your own island,” Hebert said of tenants who are subjected to “landlord abuse” and feel they have no recourse.

Hebert said she appealed to Pine Tree Legal Assistance about her heating situation, but “they are so backed up right now, they couldn’t even get me any resources.”

The tenants’ association hopes to connect area residents with resources to address property maintenance concerns with their landlords and bring their homes up to code. Eventually, the organization hopes to mimic the structure of the Central Maine Apartment Owner’s Association and bring together tenants from neighboring towns, including Winslow, Oakland and Fairfield.

The group also plans to connect with the Rental Housing Alliance of Southern Maine, a tenants’ association based in Portland.

State Rep. Colleen Madigan, D-Waterville, was at Saturday’s meeting, and encouraged regular renters to consider giving testimony at a bill hearing at the State House in Augusta.

“It’s not as scary as it seems. You don’t have to be a policy expert or lobbyist,” Madigan said. “Stories are more important. What you guys are offering is the real-world experience of just being a resident in Waterville.”

Added Pelkey: “We have a voice. Let’s use it. Even though (the group) is small right now, it’s possible.”

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