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As housing prices soar, affordable housing groups say applications are climbing

Maine Daily Life Daylight Savings
Robert F. Bukaty
The skyline of Portland, Maine, catches the early morning sunlight, Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021.

Affordable housing groups say applications for units are climbing amidst skyrocketing rental and real estate prices.

Portland's Avesta Housing, which operates more than 100 properties in Maine and New Hampshire, is reporting a 32% increase in applications last year, as compared to the year before. The organization was able to house less than 8% of those applicants.

While Avesta added nearly 180 new units last year, President and CEO Dana Totman said that added capacity was outpaced by demand.

"I would say the other piece to it is that there was a level of desperation that people were coming to us, that was higher than we'd seen before," Totman said.

MaineHousing Director Dan Brennan said the crisis is being felt across the state, with rents rising much faster than incomes.

"It's disheartening, because we're in this situation. But the need is definitely increasing throughout the state," he said.

Brennan said MaineHousing is currently updating the system for Maine's centralized Section 8 housing voucher program. But before that process began, more than 20,000 people were on the waitlist.

However, Brennan is encouraged that the agency has a pipeline of 22 housing projects under construction right now, with more than 30 other projects in development.

And Totman is also hoping for the passage of a new state bill to change zoning rules to encourage more development. But he said it will likely take several years before many of those investments result in significant changes on the ground.