Experts gather in Sitka to talk Southeast housing solutions

The Sitka Community Land Trust, pictured here at the May 2023 naming ceremony for the S’us’ Héeni Sháak community, provides one model for affordable housing in Alaska. (Sitka Community Land Trust/2023)

Alaska’s population is shrinking, so why does the housing market feel tighter than ever? At Southeast Conference on Thursday, a panel of housing specialists highlighted key problems in the Alaska housing market and specific strategies to fix those issues.

A housing shortage in Alaska is not really news, nor is it new.  Nolan Klouda leads the University of Alaska’s Center for Economic Development.

“I don’t think housing has ever been a particularly great spot in our economy, for a lot of reasons,” Klouda said. “You know, we’ve always had high costs and problems with availability.”

Klouda said that although Alaska’s population in most communities has declined slightly, housing demand has gone up about 9% since 2016. That’s because families are having fewer children, so average household size has decreased.

“When adults live together, you know, there are usually one or two of them in a household,” he said. “And so we have basically, more households, even though we have fewer people per household.”

Klouda said efforts to build more housing can be stalled by a variety of factors.

“Sometimes it’s topography, and sometimes it’s land ownership that doesn’t allow for it,” he said. “Anything that can be done to make land available is important, including the building of access or site infrastructure, which sometimes local governments have the ability to oversee.”

He zeroed in on growing short-term rental markets as another area of concern.

“Even if it’s not a big percent of your overall units at any point in time, it keeps growing,” he said. “And so it puts your community on sort of a collision course, you know, with housing availability and affordability.”

Jackie Pata is the president and CEO of Tlingit and Haida Regional Housing Authority, which provides housing assistance and financial support to communities across Southeast. Pata said that in addition to questions of infrastructure and regulation, she’s been focused on financial education for homebuyers and training for local build crews. That approach has seen some success. She pointed to several small communities in Southeast, including Yakutat and Angoon, that are constructing new housing at a per capita rate above the statewide average.

“My apprenticeship programs, like we have in Angoon – they can now build houses year over year with their own local crew creating their own jobs,” Pata said. “Because we definitely have a need. We leverage our dollars, we build our crew, and we continue to utilize them. And we realized that we were not going to have build-and-bust communities anymore.”

Randy Hughey, the Executive Director of Sitka’s Community Land Trust, shared another model for providing what he called “permanently affordable housing.” Under Sitka’s land trust model, eligible low- to moderate-income buyers purchase a small home on land owned by the trust. When they sell the home, their profits are capped to keep the home affordable for the next buyer.

“Like all other models of portability, it turns renters into owners, and isn’t that what we really want to do in our communities? ” Hughey said. “Provide a way for young families to own a home and stay there and raise their kids and be a part of our communities. We want to turn renters into owners.”

Hughey said land trusts are one small piece of the Alaska housing puzzle. Pata echoed a similar sentiment, saying that a multifaceted approach is necessary to work towards solving Alaska’s housing crunch.

“We love where we are, we are part of the fabric and we’re going to be here,” Pata said. She added that towns across the region were looking for every opportunity to make homes affordable, in order to help slow outmigration and allow residents “to stay in our villages and in our communities.”

Thursday was the final day of Southeast Conference. You can find resources on their website at

KCAW - Sitka

KCAW is our partner station in Sitka. KTOO collaborates with partners across the state to cover important news and to share stories with our audiences.

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