City leaders kicked off their effort to deal with the lack of affordable housing Wednesday night, Jan. 31, by detailing the problems and giving marching orders to a trio of committees to offer solutions.

"We want action," Mayor Valli Geiger said at the Jan. 31 meeting. "We've studied ourselves to death."

One committee, which includes Councilor Lisa Westkaemper, will come up with recommendations on tiny-house regulations, as well as proposals to increase residential density in neighborhoods.

Another committee, which includes Councilor Adam Ackor, will develop recommendations on converting the McLain School into residences. The city is expected to take control of the school by year's end, when Regional School Unit 13 vacates the building.

And the third committee, which includes Councilor Ed Glaser, will look at developing upper floors of downtown buildings.

Geiger has focused on the lack of affordable housing, calling it one of the greatest challenges facing the community. She said industries are having a difficult time finding employees because workers cannot find housing they can afford.

She said MaineHealth hired 50 nurses last May to serve the hospitals and health care facilities from Damariscotta to Belfast, but that half of the nurses have since left because they could not find housing.

"The only option not on the table is doing nothing," Geiger said.

Tia Anderson, executive director of Midcoast Habitat for Humanity, said the volunteer organization cannot build houses fast enough to meet demand.

She pointed out efforts to build more housing in Rockland, including a current project of converting an Orange Street residence into two units and developing plans to build small houses on Philbrick Avenue.

Habitat purchased land in January 2017 that consists of most of Philbrick Avenue, located on the west side of Camden Street. The homes being considered for construction would be one- and two-bedroom residences that would range from 550 to 850 square feet. An initial proposal called for building 12 residences on the street.

Habitat is also working with neighboring Rockport to build a tiny-house development where Hospitality House is located on Old County Road. Those homes would be transitional ones for people who leave emergency shelters before they find housing of their own.

Tom Marshall, a retired professor who volunteers with the city, made a nearly hour-long presentation on the housing situation in the city.

One statistic Marshall offered concerned the cost of housing in Rockland. In the past 18 months, that cost has jumped from $80 a square foot to $125 per square foot. For the same period, Portland housing jumped from $168 to $248 per square foot. He said as prices rise in southern Maine, the price pressure will move north.

"Price increases may be in the cards," Marshall said, for Rockland.

One benefit of the federal income tax changes, he said, will be to make it less attractive to build high-end homes or second homes. That trend, if it occurs, could result in more housing for moderate-income residents.

Banks also also beginning to lend money more freely for home mortgages, he said, in the wake of the housing crash a decade ago.

Geiger encouraged anyone who wants to serve on the three committees to contact her or staff at City Hall. The groups will make quarterly reports to the City Council and offer any ordinance changes needed to make their recommendations come to fruition.