With a 3.2% vacancy rate and rent for two-bedroom units averaging more than $1,500 per month, Anchorage needs more housing choices, including one- and two-bedroom units, so that there is a home for everyone who wants to live here.
Backed by the Anchorage 2040 Land Use Plan, which calls to make infill and redevelopment possible with a gentle nudge toward increased density, those units can fit comfortably in our urban neighborhoods. However, we must fix the barriers that functionally obstruct them in the first place. AO 2023-103 opens the door to small multifamily housing where we need it most.
Cook Inlet Housing Authority recently ran the numbers: 326 triplexes were built in Anchorage between 1970 and 1985, about 22 per year. Since 1999, we’ve only built 31. At the same time, respondents to the Anchorage Economic Development Corp. (AEDC) Anchorage Housing Survey indicated community support for “high-density housing generally, with options that are smaller and in more walkable areas.”
Last fall, local researcher and former journalist Jeannette Lee asked, “Can Anchorage bring back the triplex?” Her Sightline article dissected the various factors impeding the growth of triplexes and fourplexes, including restrictive land use regulations.
Since then, the Anchorage Assembly addressed some of these issues, including eliminating parking minimums and allowing Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) to be built with few restrictions across the Municipality. Even still, if a duplex and a triplex were built on neighboring lots of the same size, the triplex would be far more expensive and take longer to build. Why?
We spent six months understanding that question. Alongside municipal staff and industry experts, we discovered the answer lies in the arbitrary standards imposed on small multifamily developments (triplexes and four-plexes) compared to single-family homes and duplexes.
There are more barriers than we anticipated, but let’s start by examining dimensional standards, which are the requirements in municipal code for using the square footage of a lot, as an example.
In residential zones where multifamily is already allowed, small multifamily developments are required to have larger lots and bigger setbacks than duplexes and single-family homes. Dimensional standards require a minimum lot size of 8,500 square feet for three units plus 2,300 square feet for every additional unit. That means a fourplex, with the same footprint as a duplex neighbor, would need a 10,800-square-foot lot. This bias toward single-family homes over three- and four-unit development is woven throughout our municipal code and administrative processes. Our proposal, AO 2023-103, seeks to level the playing field and make small multifamily development easier, potentially making both home ownership and rental rates more attainable.
Our proposal also aims to align our existing zoning code with the 2040 plan goal to make infill and redevelopment possible with a gentle nudge toward density where it makes the most sense. For example, our proposal lowers the R-2M minimum lot size for small multifamily projects (up to four units) to 6,000 square feet, just like duplexes. In R-2M alone, this change activates 3,710 lots to be eligible for as many as four units.
We believe encouraging “gentle density” via small multifamily units can provide more opportunities for attainable housing while retaining a balanced, vibrant neighborhood feel.
The result of a six-month, meticulous, and measured process with expertise from municipal staff, commissioners, and private and nonprofit builders, AO 2023-103 is a targeted revision and a crucial step in addressing the housing crisis in Anchorage.
The proposal has been referred to the Planning & Zoning Commission, and an Assembly public hearing is scheduled for Dec. 19. Our hope is that these changes will go into effect before the 2024 building season.
Paired with a proposal to revise Title 23 to refine our building code for small multifamily projects coming this month, AO 2023-103 is a vital step towards achieving this goal, and we eagerly await the feedback and support of our community as we move forward. These changes give our builders the tools necessary to construct appropriate housing for everyone who wants to call Anchorage home.
Kevin Cross represents District 2, Chugiak/Eagle River, on the Anchorage Assembly.
Randy Sulte represents District 6, South Anchorage, on the Anchorage Assembly.
Daniel Volland represents District 1, North Anchorage, on the Anchorage Assembly.
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