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Broad effort focuses on increasing housing in Anchorage

  • Author: Devin Kelly
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published November 24, 2014

A group formed through Anchorage Economic Development Corp.'s Live. Work. Play. initiative is preparing to release its first recommendations on how to address the city's housing shortage, the latest step in a broad effort to tackle what is widely recognized as a housing production problem in the Anchorage Bowl.

A survey of Anchorage employers has already been completed, and until Jan. 2, the group is surveying employees, asking about housing costs and needs. The group expects to begin releasing findings later in January, Bill Popp, executive director of AEDC, said in an interview last week.

The recommendations will come amid a flurry of activity aimed at finding ways to spur housing production in Anchorage. The 2012 Anchorage Housing Market Analysis projected a need for 18,000 new housing units by 2030. Analysts say the demand translates into just over 900 new units a year, but production is currently falling well short of that.

Housing, and the economic implications of housing affordability for the workforce, has morphed into a pressing issue in Anchorage and in cities and villages across Alaska.

In recent months, a separate group led by United Way of Anchorage, called Housing Anchorage, has been organizing focus groups and community discussions about housing. The goal has been to listen what people want when it comes to housing, and to ask for opinions on topics like density, said Michele Brown, president of United Way of Anchorage.

Other groups are looking at even smaller pieces of the complex, multifaceted problem. The Anchorage Assembly's committee on land use regulations, for example, is considering changes to multifamily development design standards.

The Live. Work. Play. housing group is co-chaired by Carol Gore, president and CEO of the nonprofit Cook Inlet Housing Authority, and Tim Potter, director of planning with DOWL-HKM, a private civil engineering company. The group has been holding monthly meetings for more than a year, zeroing in on infrastructure challenges and potential incentives for production and redevelopment.

In an interview, sitting across the table from Popp, Gore emphasized that the group is keenly focused on the economic impact of housing in the community. More than half of the group's 21 members represent businesses and AEDC members, including ConocoPhillips, Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., Shell Oil Co., and Providence Alaska Medical Center.

There are also representatives of the banking and lending industry, state and local government representatives, nonprofits, local developers and a realtor. There are no retail industry representatives -- a function of tight schedules and lean management, Popp said.

Right now, the group is in the process of analyzing the results of the employer survey, tailored toward gathering information about whether housing is affecting a business' ability to attract and retain employees. Anecdotally, Popp said, smaller businesses are reporting that revenues are not enough to keep up with the high cost of helping employees pay for housing.

For larger companies, it's a factor in recruiting and retaining employees in high demand, such as mechanical engineers or accounting specialists.

"It's something that's making it harder to do business in Alaska," Popp said. "And I think employers are hearing that."

Over the first 10 months of 2014, the average sale price for a single-family home in Anchorage came to $360,182, Popp said. In 2013, the average sale price for a home in Anchorage was $347,006. In 2012, it was $337,306.

The problem is not solely affordability. It's that people can't find what they're looking for in their price range, or feel they're being asked to pay too much for what they're getting, Popp said.

In the quarterly cost of living index, Anchorage was the 17th most expensive housing market in the nation, compared to the national average, Popp said. But rather than quickly and dramatically driving down housing costs, Popp said instead he sees the work of housing groups aimed at stabilizing the market.

"I'd love to make Anchorage the 50th most expensive housing market in the U.S., as opposed to the 17th," Popp said. "I don't want to see the taillights of San Francisco dimly in the distance. I want them way out in front of us."

While much of the overall effort is currently geared toward data collection and analysis, the various group leaders said the public can expect to start hearing clear strategies and policy recommendations in the coming months.

And, Brown said, the eventual goals go beyond stats on building permits and sale prices.

"What people want and need and are experiencing about housing, certainly the focus groups and AEDC survey are feedstock for that," Brown said. "And then the second part of that will be in-depth discussions in the community about people's visions for the type of community and neighborhoods we want to have."

Anchorage residents who are interested in weighing in can take the AEDC employee survey at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/MJ2J6K8.

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