From The Field: Alaska Governor Hosts Housing Summit to Develop Affordability Solutions

On January 6, Alaska Governor Bill Walker (I) convened advocates, state officials, and housing developers to explore solutions to the state’s worsening housing affordability and safety challenges. Alaska faces unique difficulties in development financing, accessing developable land, and building with materials that can withstand the state’s extreme weather conditions. Advocates from the Alaska Coalition on Housing and Homelessness (AKCH2), an NLIHC State Coalition Partner, led summit conversations on homelessness, affordable housing for veterans, and housing to reduce recidivism.

Homelessness is a growing challenge in Alaska due to insufficient affordable rental housing, permanent supportive housing, and Continuum of Care funding in communities throughout the state’s expansive geography. The 2015 Point-in-Time count found 1,956 homeless individuals statewide, a 9% increase over the previous year. Nearly one in five homeless Alaskans is under the age of 18. Advocates have prioritized the expansion of permanent supportive housing (PSH). According to AKCH2, not one community in Alaska has more than two units of PSH per every 1,000 residents.

The rapid decline of housing stock built in the 1970s and 80s is one of the factors affecting the current shortage of decent, available housing in both rural and urban areas. Housing developed during that period to support an influx of workers building the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline System was hastily constructed without using durable materials. Housing throughout Alaska’s expansive rural areas is especially likely to be substandard or unlivable. An estimated 58% of Alaska homes have severe risk for mold and moisture damage.  The lack of affordable housing in Alaska’s urban areas has led to over-crowding. According to Alaska Housing Finance Corporation’s 2014 Alaska Housing Assessment, 6% of homes are occupied by more than 1.5 occupants per room.

Developers hoping to increase the supply of multifamily rental housing face unique financing challenges and the scarcity of developable land. According to the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, less than 1% of all land is available for private ownership and development because so much is owned by native communities or federal and state governments. During the summit, Mr. Walker indicated the state’s willingness to make some its land available to developers where the need is clear, but cautioned that the state will not be giving away land for free.

The summit divided participants into eight work groups tasked with producing recommendations. The proposals will be put together in a report expected to be released by Mr. Walker’s office within the month. Advocates will organize to ensure the priority recommendations are carried out.

“We are excited to have Governor Walker’s leadership as we work to address the growing problem of housing affordability in Alaska,” said Scott Ciambor, Board Chair for AKCH2. “We are committed to seeing that the recommendations put forward at the Governor’s Housing Summit are enacted and that the importance of investing in housing is more recognized throughout the state.”

For more information about efforts to expand access to affordable housing in Alaska, contact Scott Ciambor at scott.akch2@gmail.com.