OPINION: Support Anchorage zoning reform

On May 17, this paper ran a commentary titled “Assembly rezoning plan needs more public input.” The authors took issue with the HOME Initiative, an ordinance before the Anchorage Assembly that would streamline our city’s zoning and make it simpler and easier for landowners to build more types of housing in Anchorage, including duplexes and triplexes.

The authors praise a planning process from the 1990s that culminated in the municipality’s 2020 Comprehensive Plan, claiming that “Anchorage 2020′s ‘vision’ still works.” They argue that zoning regulations should funnel development into “blighted” — in effect, low-income — areas and designated “urban hubs,” which are areas along major roadways that have high levels of traffic, road pollution, road noise and commercial activity. This so-called “targeted” approach purports to encourage housing development in places where individuals and families may not want to live, while simultaneously blocking modest and desirable development in many existing neighborhoods.

We don’t believe that this approach has been successful. The 1990s planning process venerated by the authors created an extraordinarily restrictive, complex and burdensome zoning system that has failed in critical ways and now threatens the health of our city. Our current zoning regime has become a chaotic mess of numerous zones, “overlays” of now-unknown origin, and arbitrary restrictions that have made it difficult and uneconomical to build in Anchorage — in the “urban hubs” or elsewhere. Much of Anchorage looks nearly the same as it did 30 years ago.

Data on building permits bears this out. According to the federal Housing and Urban Development State of the Cities Data Systems Building Permit Database, in 2001 — the year the municipality adopted the 2020 Land Use Plan — Anchorage issued 1,965 permits for new housing units. By 2023, municipal records place that number at about 240. This is a decline of approximately 88%. While building is booming in other parts of Southcentral Alaska, Anchorage’s exclusionary zoning has helped suffocate our housing market and create a self-induced housing crisis.

This crisis has made rentals prohibitively expensive and has put homeownership out of reach for many. It prevents motivated and hard-working people from moving to Anchorage and encourages them to move away. It cannibalizes our economy by causing housing to devour an ever-larger proportion of our incomes. It is a primary driver of Anchorage’s homelessness epidemic, whose tragic scenes play out on our streets and in our parks every day.

According to a 2019 survey by the University of Alaska Anchorage, 37% of students reported experiencing housing insecurity and 10% reported experiencing homelessness. Anchorage cannot reasonably claim to care about its future while our laws put the brakes on housing construction and force the very people who will enact that future to live in cars and tents.

The Anchorage Assembly has a mandate to solve problems, not to treat as gospel restrictive interpretations of a decades-old planning process that has severely harmed our housing market. We, the undersigned, commend the Assembly for exploring solutions to our housing crisis, and request that it steadily move forward to implement those solutions. Every day that zoning reform is delayed is a day that real people’s housing needs are harder to meet and our city falls further and further behind.


We reject the notion that we should be fearful of duplexes and triplexes, accessory dwelling units and other forms of appropriate development enabled by zoning reform. Those who live in these types of homes include our family members, coworkers, friends and neighbors, and we are happy to welcome and include them in our neighborhoods. Several of us live in these types of homes, too, while others want to have the option to do so in the future.

Anchorage will never be a “great northern city” until it is great for everyone, from students to new residents to first-time homebuyers to retirees. We encourage our fellow residents to support zoning reform and help restore homebuilding and housing choice in Anchorage. The idea that sprawling, homogeneous neighborhoods cast in amber by restrictive and exclusionary zoning codes are the ideal for everyone has run its course. We need to stop looking back to the 1990s and instead look forward to the coming decades. Our neighborhoods can be vibrant, welcoming and open to gentle organic development that serves residents and meets our city’s present and future needs.

Please consider joining us to tell the Assembly you support HOME via email, wwmas@muni.org, phone-in testimony or in-person testimony at the Assembly meeting on June 25.

Erinn Barnett, Julia Bedell, Brandy Bowmaster, Drew Cason, Anders Carlson, Anya Depace-Protasel, Andrea Feniger, Jacob Gellman, Yarrow Griffith, Robert John Gustincic Jr, Michael Hannam, Lila Hobbs, Keelan Kenny, Nolan Klouda, Aneliese Palmer, Alaina Plauché, Jake Powell, Catherine Rocchi, S. Swammy, Eric Visser, Emily Weiser, Will Walker and Paxson Woelber are renters and homeowners in the Anchorage area who are supportive of efforts to reform Anchorage residential zoning.

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