At first major forum, Anchorage mayoral candidates find little consensus on housing shortage

For the first time this campaign season, on Tuesday, all four major candidates running to be Anchorage’s next mayor appeared alongside one another in a forum. Hosted by the Anchorage Home Builders Association, an industry group representing a range of businesses involved in residential construction, it offered the campaigns the chance to propose policy solutions to Anchorage’s housing shortage and the sluggish pace of new building.

Over the course of two hours, incumbent Mayor Dave Bronson, Suzanne LaFrance, Bill Popp and Chris Tuck were asked about their solutions to the state’s labor shortage, barriers to new development, potential adjustments to the permitting process, infrastructure priorities, and their vision for housing in Anchorage a decade from now. While the four offered similar diagnoses of impediments to construction and economic growth, their answers reflected divergent plans for how to fix things.

“Quite frankly we can do better,” said Bronson. “We don’t build enough homes.”

A frequent refrain throughout his remarks was that local government’s role in the housing shortage is to get out of the way and support the businesses and private developers that know how to bring new units online.

“We just need to start building, and we need to stop regulating so much,” Bronson said.

LaFrance, a former Assembly chair, said that she would look to cutting bureaucracy and bringing pro-housing policies into the municipality through partnerships with the private sector.

“Local government has a power to convene, and bring people in…and use the assets of the municipality in a way to help promote what is good for all of us,” LaFrance said.


She said the municipality could look north to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, which despite dealing with the same set of challenges, like high interest rates, costly building supplies, and competition for labor, has managed to build at about seven times the rate as Anchorage relative to its population.

[Alaska’s working-age population continues its long decline, a headwind for the economy]

None of the candidates disputed that there is a critical lack of housing in Anchorage, or that it is hurting the city’s workforce and ability to staunch years of population decline.

“Young professionals can’t break into the housing market,” LaFrance said. At one point she mentioned that, statistically speaking, it was unlikely all three of her children would stay in Alaska as they entered adulthood.

Popp spoke in detail on the issue of outmigration. During his years as head of the Anchorage Economic Development Association, he regularly addressed members of the business community at events touching on demographic trends and strains on the state’s economy.

“We are asleep at the wheel when it comes to a national competition,” Popp said. “We haven’t been reinvesting in ourselves. We’ve been cutting our way to success.”

Popp repeatedly offered that Anchorage does not need to reinvent the wheel in finding solutions to low housing stock, proposing that officials and businesses study what’s worked in comparable cities and borrow their policies.

Though all four candidates brought up problems in the permitting process that cause enormous lags in construction and development, none offered detailed proposals for reform or concrete adjustments to the building code.

Popp said that City Hall could look at incentive programs to spur new development, whether it’s taller vertical construction downtown, mixed-use districts, or tearing down old buildings to fill in the properties with different or denser stock.

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“Redevelopment is something we overlook because it’s hard … we’ve got a lot of really crappy construction out there from the 60s and 70s,” Popp said.

Among the four candidates present at Tuesday’s panel, former state House Majority Leader Tuck spoke in the most general terms about prospective policy options, emphasizing several times that unity between multiple stakeholders was crucial for moving the city forward.

“People are tired of things being imposed on them,” Tuck said. “We need more togetherness and more inspiration.”

Referring at one point to U.S. Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, Tuck called infrastructure the “veins and vessels of your economy,” adding that it is key for the city to maintain its existing infrastructure by addressing things like potholes, while also pursuing better broadband internet to parts of town currently lacking it.

Tuck and others also offered that one tool in the municipality’s toolkit is making land it owns available for development.

“We need to free up some of the public lands we have right now,” he said.

In the weeks before municipal ballots are due back to election officials on April 2, candidates will be appearing at a broad range of forums, panels, and debates hosted by different industry and interest groups. Another is set to take place 7 a.m. Thursday at the Petroleum Club of Anchorage, hosted by the Alliance, an industry group.


Though it was only the four candidates running the most highly visible and resourced campaigns who participated in the Home Builders Association event, six others have filed with the city to appear on the ballot: Darin Colbry, Breck Craig, Dustin Darden, Nick Danger, Jenny Di Grappa and Phil Isley.

Ballots will be mailed to voters on March 12.

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Zachariah Hughes

Zachariah Hughes covers Anchorage government, the military, dog mushing, subsistence issues and general assignments for the Anchorage Daily News. He also helps produce the ADN's weekly politics podcast. Prior to joining the ADN, he worked in Alaska’s public radio network, and got his start in journalism at KNOM in Nome.