Dunleavy axes state funding for Cold Climate Housing Research Center

The Cold Climate Housing Research Center in Fairbanks aims to develop more durable and sustainable housing that can withstand Alaska’s harsh climate. (Video by Joey Mendolia/Alaska Public Media)

The Cold Climate Housing Research Center in Fairbanks lost all state funding after Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s vetoes of the capital budget, which he signed Aug. 8.

The center used its $1 million in annual state funding to manage another $4 million in grants toward developing and testing energy-efficient buildings for use all over Alaska. It’s unclear how the center can continue to operate without state funds, but its staff of 18 continue to look for ways to do their work.

Cold Climate Housing Research Center Director Jack Hébert talked about the center and its funding woes with Alaska Public Media’s Casey Grove.

Jack Hébert
The housing issues and problems in Alaska are legend. And most of that has been due to the fact that we brought in housing that wasn’t appropriate for our climate and created both inefficient buildings that don’t last, but also buildings that have toxic indoor air quality. So that’s why we established the research center 20 years ago, and this was with support of the state of Alaska and many other partners. Since that time, we have built our headquarters here at the Cold Climate Housing Research Center. We are a nonprofit. Our building itself is considered to be the most energy-efficient building at this latitude in the world. But the point is, being builders, we wanted our research to be real. And if you can’t show it, you just do the study and you don’t apply it, then it’s just one more study on a shelf. And the idea was, is that we would find practical solutions to real problems. And that means from Ketchikan to Utqiaġvik.

Casey Grove
The state has been contributing, I guess, about a million dollars in core funding. And I want to ask you more about the cut that you’re looking at here. But my understanding is that the center also leverages a lot of money with that core funding from other sources. Is that right?

Jack Hébert
Yes, our roots are in the private sector. And so we always have an eye on a practical return for the investment that’s being made. The state has supported us for those 20 years. Many … most of the legislators have been supporters of our work and have seen the direct benefit to the people that live in their regions. But we try to leverage that money. So there are some things that literally you can’t go after grants for, and part of that is the core functions of an organization — the money that it takes to get the grants and the money that’s required to match the contributions that grants provide. The other piece of that core funding that’s really important is the outreach and the public engagement that comes from those core functions. So all of our videos, our manuals, our training that we that we do for both builders and homeowners, and personal contacts with folks — that all has come from state support. We do realize that the state has many challenges right now, financially. The disappointing piece for us is that this core funding, which hasn’t increased for decades, would be pulled out, 100% pulled out, and we really have no time to try to find monies to replace that. So, we’re in a little bit of a scrambling mode right now. We’re going to have to figure this out. We have an incredibly talented staff here that is very dedicated to our mission and to the people of Alaska. We’re not going to give up. But this is quite a blow.

Casey Grove
I have to ask, if there are certain grants that you need matching funds for and you’ve been zeroed out, at this point what is this the future of the Cold Climate Housing Research Center?

Jack Hébert
Well, we can’t we can’t manage the grants or meet the requirements of the match without this core funding. So, we have about four months of reserves and money that we’ve saved that we can apply toward keeping the doors open. In the meantime, we’ve got to look for that money, because if it’s not available, then the several million dollars worth of grants that are pending and about to be part of our workload, we won’t be able to fulfill the requirements of those grants. We are eternal optimists. There’s, as I said, a lot of talent here. We are really focused on finding a way forward. And I hope and do believe that we will find that way forward.

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