Alaska News

New low-income housing complex opens in Anchorage

An 18-unit townhouse project completed last week for low-income Anchorage renters is almost full. In fact, even before construction stopped on the Susitna Square project, 54 people had applied for the homes. And Alaska Housing Finance Corporation officials say another soon-to-be-finished 70-unit complex won't be nearly big enough to accommodate the thousands of people it has on its waiting list.

But it's a start, according to Bryan Butcher, AHFC executive director and CEO.

The Susitna Square project near Russian Jack Springs Park in East Anchorage sits on the site of what was once public housing owned by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The land and new buildings are now owned by a subsidiary of AHFC, the Alaska Corporation for Affordable Housing, and will be managed by another private agency, Cook Inlet Housing Authority.

And even when all the units at Susitna Square and Ridgeline Terrace – a 70-unit housing complex being built in Mountain View – are full, AHFC said there will still be thousands more Anchorage families and singles looking for affordable housing.

"What we've seen increasingly in Anchorage is that the market has gotten very tight at all levels with the exception of the very high-end homes," Butcher said.

A 2012 report commissioned by the city showed that, to meet demand, the city needed to build at least 909 new housing units each year until 2030. Since 2012, only about 350 new units have been built in the Anchorage Bowl annually.

The lack of housing at all levels – from single rooms to larger four-bedroom family units – is creating a domino effect, gridlocking people who might have the financial means to move up, but can't.


"And they are unable to find anything on the market, so they stay where they are," Butcher said. "There's people renting that are ready to buy, to look at the starter home or condo, but they can't because everything is not moving along, so that affects our public housing as well."

That leaves people at the bottom of the market – those looking for affordable housing and starter units – on the outside looking in, or paying far more than the federally recommended thirty percent of their earnings in rent, Butcher said.

The crunch has left thousands on the AHFC waiting list and has increased the average time for a family to be on public housing assistance from three years (in 2005) to more than eight years today.

The Susitna Square project, on the corner of San Roberto Avenue and Lane Street, has one and two-bedroom townhouses. They range from 632 square feet to 897 square feet. Rent – for people who qualify – starts at $934 per month. Electricity and trash removal are the only utilities not included in the rent.

As part of the project, two types of solar panels save about 10 percent in energy costs for residents, according to Shawn Holderidge, senior project manager for the Cook Inlet Housing Authority.

And while the people who will eventually fill its units need financial assistance, the project isn't technically a public housing program.

"When it comes to public housing, we own and manage and take care of those. In this case, we have a private organization that is going to be managing it," said AHFC Director of Public Housing Catherine Stone.

Finding affordable housing isn't just an Anchorage problem – AHFC said thousands more across the state are also looking for it. The agency is hoping that its work in Anchorage will pay off for the rest of Alaska.

"Once we have had success here (in Anchorage), we will start looking at it statewide," Butcher said. "We thought we would start in Anchorage because that is where most of the people are, and that's where most of the challenges are."

Sean Doogan

Sean Doogan is a former reporter for Alaska Dispatch and Alaska Dispatch News.