OPINION: Pro-housing reform promotes smaller government, economic justice and the environment

Pro-housing reforms like Anchorage’s HOME Initiative will give residents more flexibility with how they use their property, cut bureaucratic red tape for developers, and help ease historically high housing prices. We invite you to also consider the environmental case for HOME.

Fixing Anchorage’s zoning code to encourage compact development is one of the most effective ways our city can meet the goals laid out in its 2020 Climate Action Plan. Poor urban planning accelerates climate change by forcing people to travel longer distances for work and recreation. Laws that prevent efficient land use by effectively mandating detached, single-family homes increase per-capita greenhouse gas output. And building in green spaces destroys natural carbon sinks like trees and tundra. HOME takes a modest step toward pro-climate zoning by allowing duplexes in all neighborhoods in the Anchorage Bowl. Allowing fourplexes or even more units would have an even greater positive impact and we hope the city eventually does so. HOME is still a win for organizations and individuals concerned about climate change and we hope you’ll join us in supporting it.

In Anchorage, overly complex zoning requirements have stopped developers from building carbon-efficient neighborhoods. HOME removes the most significant barrier: rules that limit over 41% of Anchorage lots to single-family homes, the least efficient and most expensive use of land. These rules push development to the outskirts of town and beyond, which increases emissions and transportation costs. By legalizing duplexes city-wide, HOME allows us to incrementally shift toward more efficient land use.

HOME will help the environment in three ways:

First, encouraging denser construction in Anchorage will allow more workers to live in the city rather than commuting from the Mat-Su Valley. Second, multifamily structures are far more efficient from a construction and heating perspective than single-family homes. This point is especially crucial in the context of the Cook Inlet gas shortage. Third, enabling higher-value development in existing neighborhoods will reduce the financial pressure to build on agricultural land and wild spaces.

HOME is part of the answer to Anchorage’s affordable housing crisis. Housing prices in Anchorage spiked by 30% between 2019 and 2023. The lack of affordable options in town is driving many young people and working families north to the Mat-Su, which adds seven housing units per 1,000 residents each year (Anchorage adds just 1.3). More people have moved out of Anchorage than into Anchorage for the past 9 years; in 2021, 2,932 Anchorage residents moved to the borough (1,517 Mat-Su residents moved to the city). Anchorage’s affordable housing shortage doesn’t just force Alaskans into a long, expensive and dangerous commute down the Glenn Highway. It also exacerbates the climate crisis. A year of daily round-trip commutes from Palmer to Anchorage releases 17,500 pounds of carbon dioxide — well above the national average. Allowing denser housing in the Anchorage Bowl will help more of these families live in town.

Multifamily homes also use resources more efficiently than isolated houses. It takes far more raw materials and carbon emissions, per resident, to construct a single-family home than a duplex or apartment building that two or more families share. The same is true for heating, which is particularly important in the wintry city we live in (think smaller units and shared walls). Over 96% of Anchorage homes rely on natural gas for heat. Unfortunately, we are facing a natural gas shortage in Cook Inlet, and imported gas could be 50% more expensive than the local gas we use now. All this to say: It is time to build heat-efficient housing in Alaska. If you want an affordable heating bill, you should support HOME. If you want to avoid importing natural gas from foreign countries or building a second pipeline through Alaska’s interior, you should also support HOME.


Finally, HOME will protect local agriculture and wild spaces by limiting additional sprawl on sensitive Hillside landscapes. There is demand for housing in Southcentral Alaska and two choices about where to build that housing. Developers could fill in unused parking lots, abandoned buildings, and vacant land within Anchorage city limits. Or, new housing could continue to displace farms and wild spaces on the outskirts of town. Which would you prefer? Unfortunately, restrictive zoning rules and high construction costs make it near-impossible for developers to build in central Anchorage neighborhoods; only mansions on the outskirts of town turn a profit. HOME changes the economic calculus for developers because duplexes are more valuable than single-family residences.

Whether you’re for smaller government, lower housing costs or climate-friendly neighborhoods, consider testifying in person in support of HOME at the Assembly meeting on Tuesday, June 25 or sending an email to your Assembly member.

Andrea Feniger, Alaska Chapter Director, Sierra Club of Alaska; Chantal de Alcuaz, The Alaska Center; Isaac Vanderburg, Launch Alaska; Jeannette Lee, Alaska Research Director, Sightline Institute; Pamela Miller, Alaska Community Action on Toxics

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