Residence seekers promote themselves in a bid to beat the midcoast Maine housing crunch


BELFAST, Maine – Back in the days when apartment hunters searched for an apartment on websites like Craigslist, they found a selection of rental apartments to search.

But times have changed, at least in some communities where the demand for housing is so great that there are more housing-hunter jobs than housing on sites dealing with rental housing.

“I think more people are looking for it than places,” said Dona Robins, a rental hunter whose Craigslist ad has not yet shown any listings for midcoast Maine apartments. “It’s a difficult thing.”

She and her husband Robert Bonner sold their Sedona, Arizona home last spring, just before the pandemic began. Last summer the retired couple took their motorhome to Belfast, where they had previously visited, and decided they wanted to move there.

They wanted to rent before looking for a place to buy. But they hadn’t imagined that the rental housing market would be this tight.

Her Craigslist post includes a smiling photo of the couple standing in front of a mountain and a few words promoting their excellent references, Bonner’s construction and maintenance skills, and willingness to either pay or pay fair market rents.

But it didn’t bring her to a new home.

They’ll have to move out of the winter rental they found next month, but where to go next is unclear. They hope that despite all the adversities, a two-bedroom apartment will be built for them. But they don’t count on it.

“I don’t know if we can stay here now,” said Robins. “It’s to the point where we probably can’t stay in Maine anymore.”

Belfast City Councilor Mike Hurley said there are likely a number of reasons why rental housing is so scarce and demand is so high. He heard that some developers hit by the housing bubble and the great recession of 2007-09 were slowing down new construction, reducing the available housing stock. And some of the properties in the city have been converted to short-term rentals, removing them from the long-term housing stock.

“It’s multifaceted and a complicated thing. Not easy to correct or address, ”he said.

But the most important factor is that more and more people are able to work remotely and live wherever they want. When the coronavirus pandemic sent office workers home in droves last spring, some of them moved out of cities and to places like the central Maine coast.

“The biggest change is that everyone has realized that you don’t have to live where you work,” said Hurley. “All of a sudden people were like, ‘I can live in Belfast, Maine and do my job. ‘Lots of people do this all over the country. ”

Officials in Belfast, a city of 6,700 people, have been concerned about the affordable housing shortage for years. It turns out that the municipality also doesn’t have a lot of excess marketable housing that can easily accommodate all people looking for housing.

Kym Sanderson, a Belfast property manager, said demand had been high.

“It was crazy,” she said. “People have been calling all winter and all spring. I don’t even have anything open. I’m just telling people, “Sorry – I have nothing.” I can’t even really advise them where to go. I don’t know anything right now. ”

All of this means that Robins and Bonner fully expect to have to move again – and wish they hadn’t sold their motorhome.

“We’re kind of kicking ourselves now,” said Robins. “Because it was a place to live.”

Buying a house now also seems impossible. Because of the real estate boom, homes are scarce and those on the market cost more money than they are willing or able to spend. Even so, they have resources and can go anywhere.

They know it’s worse for people who can’t just pick up and move.

“The people I really feel sorry for are the people who live and work here and who don’t have a house,” said Bonner.

He and Robins believe that the Belfast housing shortage will be exacerbated by the growth of short-term housing such as Airbnb rentals. This happened in Sedona, where they owned a house, and it affected the quality of life of the residents.

“Everyone put their houses on Airbnb and it just went crazy,” said Bonner. “It became a nightmare. Do we only want to become short-term rental meccas? Or would you like to get to know your neighbors? It’s a strange thing and it really hurts the workers. ”

This is a conversation that is taking place in many Maine churches. Even so, Hurley warned, there is no easy solution.

“Airbnb, I think it’s an aspect,” he said. “On the other hand, do people have the right to earn a living? I know a lot of people who have Airbnbs. This is how they make a living. ”

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