OPINION: What we heard about the HOME Initiative and residential zoning reform

Last August, the three of us proposed the “Housing Opportunities in the Municipality for Everyone” (HOME) Initiative, introduced as Assembly Ordinance 2023-87. The Assembly is leading the conversation to address our critical housing shortage and as three members of the Assembly, we believe part of the solution needs to be simplifying our zoning code — Title 21 — to encourage more building and more types of housing in our city. The HOME Initiative proposes combining residential zoning districts to make zoning code easier to understand and give more opportunity to property owners to build housing.

The HOME Initiative was referred to the Planning and Zoning Commission to be heard in March 2024 and scheduled to come back to the Assembly in June. In the meantime, we sought robust public engagement. This week, the sponsors introduced a new version of the HOME Initiative that reflects what we’ve heard from the community.

Over several months, we had many conversations with constituents about our proposed zoning changes, and more broadly about the housing challenges we face. Between March and May, the sponsors attended 24 meetings, representing diverse interests and communities across the Anchorage Bowl. We met with community councils and HALO, where most participants are long-time homeowners. We met with business groups, who want to know how this zoning change could encourage economic growth. In conversations with the Alaska Black Caucus, the Alaska Native Sisterhood, and the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission, we explored current inequities and how changing zoning creates more housing opportunities for all. We met with retirees, young professionals, homebuilders and as many groups as we could schedule. We also followed robust dialogue in local opinion pages and had countless conversations, calls and emails with constituents across a spectrum of demographics, political persuasions and beliefs about how to best solve our housing shortage.

We’ve been listening. The following summary is a bite-sized portion of what we heard — a full memo is available online at ancgov.info/HOME.

(Almost) everyone agrees: Anchorage needs more housing. From rising home costs to lack of rental units, from young professionals struggling to afford a starter home to older residents unable to find a small condo to downsize, residents acknowledge we have a housing shortage. We must take action.

Balancing property rights and the community’s best interests is complex. Zoning and land use are all about property rights and can be perceived as government overreach if the rules are too strict. Some argue that zoning infringes on rights; others argue neighbors should have a direct interest in what happens beyond their property lines.

[Charles Wohlforth: Past racism isn’t a reason to change Anchorage zoning laws]


Process is important. Zoning is an obscure, technical topic, complicated even for those who use the code regularly. Much of the feedback, particularly from people opposed to the changes, focused on how zoning code interacts with our adopted community plans and the processes used to develop them.

Perspectives often differ depending on a person’s life stage and housing situation. Opinions about housing and zoning are diverse but tend to track with current housing experiences. Longtime homeowners are most likely to oppose change that might impact their own home or neighborhood. People struggling to afford housing, find a new home, or who feel priced out of home ownership tend to support increasing access to housing.

Zoning change brings up frustrations with current impacts and worries about future impacts. Some homeowners centered their concerns on the impact of additional housing on their streets. We heard worries about street parking, local street traffic, snow removal, new buildings that shade existing backyards, and (in areas like Hillside) downstream problems of failed septic systems and poor drainage. People also worry their homes may either gain or lose value when zoning rules change.

The community does not agree on what, or how many, changes we should make to zoning. Zoning reform, and the need to reduce the cost to build, has been discussed for many years, including during the last rewrite of Title 21 (2002-2013). However, public opinion is split over how much changing our zoning laws would make a significant impact on our housing issues, if we could even agree on which changes to make.

Some believe HOME doesn’t go far enough. Many in the building and design professions continue to call for changes to zoning code and point to other parts of Title 21 that add the most costs: residential design standards for multi-unit housing, and a permitting process that adds cost, uncertainty, and risk to a project. People who strongly support more housing, especially young adults, urge Anchorage to take more ambitious steps.

We need to focus on affordable housing. HOME would make incremental changes over time to the overall housing market, but the need for affordable housing units, particularly for houseless and vulnerable people, can’t wait.

We should pursue multiple solutions to fix our housing problems. Residents brought up many other ideas to increase the supply of housing beyond HOME: paying for public infrastructure for development projects, subsidizing affordable housing, regulating short-term rentals, fixing vacant and abandoned properties, etc. The HOME Initiative, and changing zoning overall, is one of several actions members are working on in the Assembly’s Housing Action Plan.

So, what happens next?

The sponsors carefully weighed the feedback we received to shape our new version of HOME, now available to review at ancgov.info/HOME. The new (S-1) version scales back most of what we originally proposed and instead focuses on a single policy objective: eliminating single-family zoning in the Anchorage Bowl. The new version achieves this with 2 simple changes: allowing duplexes (two-family units) in all existing zones and allowing multiple structures per lot, commonly known as a “detached duplex,” or small cottage homes.

The HOME Initiative will open for a public hearing on Tuesday, June 25, and we want to hear from you! You can provide testimony in writing, by phone, or in person on Tuesday night. Sign for phone testimony up by 5 p.m. Monday, June 24 using the Assembly’s online form. You can send written testimony through the form or email all members at wwmas@anchorageak.gov. If you want to testify in person, you can speak when this item comes up on the agenda.

The HOME Initiative is being shaped by the public process. Tell us what you think — we are listening.

Daniel Volland, Anna Brawley and Meg Zaletel are members of the Anchorage Assembly, representing Districts 1 (North Anchorage), 3 (West Anchorage) and 4 (Midtown), respectively.

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