Juneau Assembly Housing Committee gets to work

Randy Wanamaker

Juneau Assembly member Randy Wanamaker makes a point during the first meeting of the Assembly’s ad hoc Housing Committee. Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO.

Calling all land owners, developers, lenders and realtors. The Juneau Assembly wants to hear from you.

The Assembly’s ad-hoc Housing Committee met for the first time on Thursday to lay the foundation for what members hope will be a day-long workshop on barriers to new housing construction in the Capital City.

The idea is to have three or four panels, each representing a segment of the housing industry, come together for a day to tell the Assembly what’s preventing construction of new units in Juneau.

It’s the brainchild of Assembly member Randy Wanamaker, who’s organizing the event.

“What are the problems that they face in trying to provide housing in this community from their perspective as lenders or builders or property owners or real estate people? And what do they think the Assembly can do about it?” Wanamaker says.

Housing is the number one reason the Capital City has the highest cost of living of the state’s three largest metropolitan areas, according to the Juneau Economic Development Council’s annual Economic Indicators Report.

The city has an Affordable Housing Commission. But Wanamker says the workshop should focus on all aspects of housing.

“There’s a need for all housing in this community,” he says. “There’s some housing that’s in less shortage than others. But we’re not limiting ourselves to studying one segment. We’re trying to learn what prevents housing from happening across a spectrum.”

Assembly member Carlton Smith is a commercial real estate broker. He says Wanamaker’s approach could benefit the industry just as much as the Assembly.

“All of these folks work well with each other in the industry,” Smith says. “But this will be the first time I believe that they will be brought together in this kind of a forum to talk about Juneau’s unique set of challenges when it comes to providing housing.”

Juneau’s Deputy Community Development Director Greg Chaney says the city has taken a number of steps in recent years to encourage new development.

“Between rezoning and the increase in density allowed in these various zoning districts,” says Chaney. “We have 18,000 potential units more than we did just two years ago.”

So what’s stopping people from building in Juneau? Chaney says financing is still hard to come by due to the national recession.

As for things the city can do better, he says education is key. For example, Chaney says a builder recently came to see him wondering if he was allowed to put more than 15 units on a Light Commercial lot.

“They were pretty sheepish about it, because they didn’t think it was allowed. And I said, ‘No, you can do 30.’ And that was really surprising for them, and these are active builders and property owners in town right now,” Chaney says.

“When I realized that they didn’t know about it, I was thinking, boy what about the folks that are just average folks? They don’t get notices in the mail. They don’t know that these are possibilities. So, I think we have a real opportunity for public education right now.”

Wanamaker agrees the city can do a better job of outreach.

“Sharing that information, letting them know that some solutions have already been implemented, is probably a very good idea,” he says.

For now, Wanamaker will focus on recruiting people to serve on the various industry panels. He hopes to schedule the workshop for some time in January to allow potential changes to be discussed before the 2013 construction season.

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