Coalition seeks Assembly support easing housing crunch

Friday afternoon, a coalition of Anchorage nonprofits and business organizations gathered in a conference room at City Hall and broke tradition.

“Normally you don’t go to the Assembly until you have the answers,” said Tyler Robinson, senior development finance manager with Cook Inlet Housing Authority. “We broke that rule because we want everybody to try to be a part of the solution and to help come up with what those answers are.”

As Anchorage’s growing housing crunch stumps developers and lawmakers alike, its impacts are poised to ripple throughout the city — including Mountain View.

The housing authority joins the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation, Anchorage Community Development Authority, Rasmuson Foundation, United Way of Anchorage and the Anchorage Economic Development Corporation’s Live.Work.Play initiative to form Housing Anchorage, a new collaboration introduced to Assembly members Friday.

It seeks to work with the Assembly to build 18,000 new homes over the next 15 years.

A slideshow presented by representatives from United Way laid out the numbers; derived from municipal building permit reports, census data and other statistics. It points to a variety of warning signs.

Anchorage’s senior population is expected to nearly double by 2022. The number of single-person households is increasing, and renters — many of whom spend more than half their income on their homes — make up a large chunk of the local housing market. Many Anchorage homes are aging and in need of redevelopment. Meanwhile, the number of new housing units developed annually falls far short of the necessary average: While United Way said more than 900 new homes must be built every year to keep up with demand, fewer than 600 have been constructed annually since 2008. It pumps up prices and leaves people looking for housing that isn’t being built quickly enough.

For years, community development organizations have worked to spur construction in Mountain View. Robinson said Cook Inlet Housing is in the final phase of a plan to build about 220 rental units and 60 owned homes throughout the neighborhood. A project spearheaded by AHFC would add an additional 70 units along Mountain View Drive, he said.

But Robinson said there are several construction hurdles, including prohibitive costs associated with redeveloping an old neighborhood.

“You have this sort of fundamental problem,” he said, citing a Price Street project that would replace a 12-plex with a handful of duplexes. “It’s not necessarily financially feasible to buy that property and tear it down; it doesn’t really pencil out unless you have resources like some of the ones that we bring to the table.”

Nonprofits can occasionally leverage different financing options, but as Anchorage housing construction continues to fall behind, Robinson said other developers would need to come forward.

“The real, I think, question — and I don’t have the answer to it — is at what point is the private sector able to actually do more and more of that redevelopment themselves?” he asked.

At Friday’s presentation, Housing Anchorage organizations asked Assembly members to work with them to ramp up housing development. United Way President Michele Brown said affordable housing availability plays a large role in Anchorage’s ability to grow business: In a 2014 AEDC report, 58 percent of businesses reported housing affected their ability to retain and recruit employees. Brown said the last time construction was so sluggish was during the crash following the pipeline boom, when the population actually decreased.

In Mountain View, where new businesses are setting up shop but plenty of storefronts remain vacant, housing  plays a key role in continued economic development and neighborhood growth.

“We’re in this kind of impasse,” Robinson said. “Everyone’s looking for what that solution is cause it’s not easy.”


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