Government regulations make home building hard in Alaska

For homeowners and developers looking to build or make additions to existing structures in the Municipality of Anchorage, it can be an uphill battle. The state of Alaska is suffering from a shortage of affordable housing, and although the construction industry wants to help solve this problem, government restrictions, an ailing economy and broken appraisal system slow the process.

One of the problems is the lack of available land. The Municipality of Anchorage, state of Alaska and the federal government need to release land for development

within the Anchorage Bowl, as well as ease and expedite the development process. A decade ago, a developer could submit plans for development in the fall and have approval for construction in the spring -- now that same process takes two or more years. Excessive government regulations, like Title 21 in Anchorage, often make building too costly and complicated. Title 21 sets rules for landscaping, building appearance, sidewalk placement, zoning and much, much more.

Title 21 has many provisions that can have serious consequences for building owners and developers. This code affects everything from how many trees homeowners can plant in their yards to where the chicken coop is allowed on your property. The current municipal administration has been very helpful in correcting many of the unintended consequences of the Title 21 document, but there are still many corrections to be made.

These overreaching regulations in both development and zoning make it extremely difficult for developers to produce affordable housing because construction costs are so high. If some of the restrictions were eased, and it was easier to build smaller units, more affordable housing projects could become a reality. However, there are other obstacles standing in the way of affordable housing in Alaska. At the state level, there needs to be a statewide building code to help fight the issue of poor quality. Alaska and the Lower 48 also suffer from a broken appraisal system — this needs to be addressed, so that potential homeowners don’t need as much for a down payment.

In Anchorage, there is a push to adopt a zoning code to allow for the construction of “accessory dwelling units” to ease the housing demand. This would ease the process for homeowners to build additional housing on their property if space permits, and could help with a lack of senior housing.

Solving Alaska’s affordable housing problem is unlikely without help from the government. Businesses are currently holding back on investing in the homebuilding industry because they are uncertain about Alaska’s economic future.

With the recent fiscal crisis and battles of the budget, investing in development has been put on the back burner. However, home-building is exactly what Alaska needs to help build the economy. Home-building creates jobs and brings families to communities that spend money and contribute to the local economy. If restrictions are eased, land is released to development and investments made in home building, Alaska’s economy and Alaska families will reap big benefits.

Karen Kassik‐Michelsohn is the current present of the Anchorage Home Builders Association. She is a residential builder, designer and remodeling design specialist with Michelsohn & Daughter Construction, Inc located in Anchorage, Alaska.

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