The Belfast City Council is wrestling with what it will take to ease Belfast’s affordable housing shortage.

During the Tuesday City Council meeting, some councilors expressed concerns about the impacts short term rentals are having on Belfast’s housing market, while others said they fear bureaucracy is slowing the process to find a solution.

Belfast has been grappling with what it needs to do to make more affordable housing available for years. It’s one of many communities in Maine’s midcoast region lacking quality, affordable housing.

But some city councilors fear the efforts aren’t moving fast enough or focused on the right issues.

“I’m impatient. If between the planning board and the council and the planning staff we can’t come up with some ideas, shame on us,” Councilor Mike Hurley said.

City officials started a concerted effort to ease the housing crunch in 2020 by gradually overhauling the city’s current zoning ordinances on multi-family housing. But the problem still persists in the midcoast community.

Project planner Wayne Marshall, the city’s former code enforcement office, said progress takes time. The major Wight Street project, which created 25 affordable apartments for seniors in Belfast, happened seven years after the zoning ordinance was amended to allow multi-family units.

“I can’t tell you that in 2023 or 2024 there’ll be any flex housing proposals. But somewhere along the line, there may be one and it’s good that the provisions are in place,” Marshall said.

City Manager Erin Herbig is also proposing the city council form a housing committee to address the shortage.

“We have a lot of people that really want to be involved. And I think that there can be a way that we can really effectively and efficiently harness that,” Herbig said.

But Hurley believes that a committee is another method of attack that will take too long.

“If your house was on fire and you call the fire department and they said, ‘yeah, we’re gonna form a committee to talk about it,’ I’m very nervous about a committee” Hurley said.

At the same time, the planning board is looking into creating an ordinance for a short-term rental registry. The planning board, Mayor Eric Sanders and councilors Neal Harkness and Paul Dean believe the registry would help the city understand the scope of how short term rentals, like Airbnbs, are impacting Belfast’s housing market. Bar Harbor has taken similar measures to ease the effects of short term rentals.

“If people are going to make more money on short term housing, they’re not going to be renting to someone that’s a police officer, to a person that works down at the hospital,” Dean said.

Hurley isn’t convinced though.

“Airbnbs are being treated like the boogeyman,” Hurley said.

People earning higher incomes, driving up prices and converting multi-family homes into single units is the largest root of the problem, Hurley said.

But, Harkness said, it’s a double-edged sword because those residents buying expensive houses are also increasing the city’s tax base.

There’s one thing councilors do agree on: the city needs to find more solutions as soon as possible.

The council will meet with the Belfast Planning Board on Jan. 31 for a housing workshop to brainstorm solutions.