BELFAST — General Assistance Administrator Jodie Stout has seen a gradual increase in need for financial assistance among the city’s residents since she moved to Belfast in the mid-’90s, but there has been a dramatic increase in need since the beginning of the pandemic, she said.

Home prices that shot up shortly after the start of the pandemic in response to increased demand have only made the shortage of affordable housing worse, she said. She is seeing a lot of people from out of state buying houses and displacing longtime Belfast residents, some of whom have family ties in the area that go back several generations.

“The greater need I’m seeing right now is honestly housing,” she said. “I’ve never seen it so bad where there’s no affordable housing anywhere.”

She works with older people and disabled individuals on fixed incomes and also with families that cannot afford the cost of living, she said. Even middle-class families are finding it difficult to afford housing in the city unless there are two adults working.

In many cases, people are buying properties now and using them as short-term rentals or Airbnbs, which are vacant through the winter, Stout said.

She has two families and two individuals living in hotels right now, even though they have housing vouchers. They have not been able to use the vouchers because most landlords in the city will not accept them, she said.

There are no vacant hotels right now, but if she can get some people out of the hotels and into long-term housing, that would free up some hotel space for homeless people, Stout said.

Donna Kelley, president and CEO of Waldo Community Action Partners, said her organization serves many older and disabled people on fixed incomes. Like Stout, she, too, has seen an increased need for assistance on the part of low-income people since the pandemic began.

She said the issues have always been there, but the pandemic has shed more light on them. “In some instances, I think these were some things that were hidden that COVID has brought to light,” she said. “So, I think some people are wrapping their heads around that.”

Waldo CAP serves people throughout the county. She thinks the city has done an outstanding job of addressing major issues, like housing for low-income people.

Much of the need she sees has to do with housing and food insecurity, she said. The organization has administered rental assistance and rent relief programs funded by the Governor’s Office and MaineHousing.

The organization served 961 households comprising 1,999 individuals last fiscal year, she said. It served 180 individuals in its early childhood program and 1,502 households through its heating assistance program. She noted that some people receive multiple services.

She doubts the organization is reaching all of its eligible constituents, she said, adding that it can be difficult for people to ask for help. She thinks it is important to know that these issues exist and that community members should be supportive and assist where they can, when they can.

Stout does not think the housing issue is going to get any better in the foreseeable future, but she would like to meet with City Council to brainstorm ideas about how to address the problem. She also hopes to engage the community in developing solutions.

“Just coming together as a community to figure out how to solve this issue,” she said. “I think it’s really important, and I just think that’s how we’re going to get it done. That’s just how Belfast is.”