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Anchorage

Alaska housing aid programs aim to keep homelessness at bay during pandemic’s economic crunch

Homes in the Westpark development on Friday, May 15, 2020 in South Anchorage. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

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As thousands of Alaska households struggle to make housing payments, a deadline to apply for rental and mortgage assistance from the Alaska Housing Finance Corp. is fast approaching.

At the same time, the Municipality of Anchorage is offering a new program to prevent residents from becoming homeless during the coronavirus pandemic.

Last week, the city launched a $1 million rental and mortgage relief effort to help people who have lost income due to the pandemic. Eligible households can receive a maximum of $1,000 per month for two months. The program targets residents who can demonstrate they suffered economic hardship from the pandemic and who lack enough money to keep a roof over their heads.

On Tuesday, the Anchorage Assembly passed a funding package that puts an additional $2 million into that fund.

The city program is funded with federal CARES Act dollars and is jointly administered by United Way of Anchorage. It was launched on the same day a two-week lottery opened for rental and mortgage aid by Alaska Housing Finance Corp. The $10 million AHFC program provides as much as $1,200 in assistance for each eligible household, payable to landlords or lenders.

Details are available at alaskahousingrelief.org or by calling or texting RELIEF to 833-440-0420. The lottery closes on Friday at 11:59 p.m. Alaska time.

As of Tuesday night, almost 5,100 Alaska households representing about 14,400 people had applied for assistance through AHFC, according to spokeswoman Stacy Barnes. More than 9.1% of AHFC mortgage loans are currently delinquent, she said. In May 2019, the delinquency rate was 3.3%, she said.

With a reported 12.6% of Alaskans out of work in May, the breadth of the economic fallout from the pandemic is staggering. The state had 40,900 fewer jobs last month compared to May 2019, according to the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

“The numbers we have are just off the charts,” said Bill Popp, executive director of Anchorage Economic Development Corp.

Popp’s group surveyed Anchorage businesses in April. Of the more than 250 businesses that responded, 64% reported lost revenue and more than 30% were forced to lay off workers. Thirty percent of those reporting a loss said it was more than half their usual revenue.

Anchorage was already five years into a troubled economy due to low oil prices when the pandemic hit. Social service agencies and housing advocates expect many more Alaskans will become homeless when an eviction moratorium ends on June 30. The housing crisis could deepen when jobless Alaskans no longer receive a $600 per week bonus in unemployment insurance, a federal program set to expire at the end of July unless Congress acts to renew it.

Anchorage’s food service industry has suffered the most disruption from COVID-19, according to data collected by United Way of Anchorage. But nearly 40 other sectors have been hard hit, including retail, health care, construction, child care, housecleaning and transportation.

United Way of Anchorage is closely tracking the numbers. The agency operates the state’s 211 help line and fields requests for financial assistance through the AK Can Do fund.

According to the United Way earlier this week, more than 460 Anchorage households, including nearly 1,450 individuals, have sought rent, mortgage and utility assistance through AK Can Do. About 90% of the requests are for housing assistance and 10% are to prevent utility shutoffs.

To apply for rental and mortgage relief through the city’s program, the public should call 211. They will be asked a series of questions, and interpreters are available. Screened applicants must bring a photo ID, a rental or lease agreement, or a mortgage statement to their appointment. They must also provide employment verification.

The city’s rental and mortgage assistance program will continue until Sept. 30 or until funds run out.

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