2018 Juneau Municipal Elections
Do you have any specific policy ideas for addressing affordable housing in Juneau?
Do you have any specific policy ideas for addressing affordable housing in Juneau?
I don’t have any specific ideas. What I have been doing is looking specifically on Alaska’s statistics. I mean I’ve been looking at like our drug statistic, our crime statistic and our education statistic is a large one. There’s no direct solution, I feel like, for the housing. Because, what I hear most is we have a high rent and what most people can come up with a good solution for is for property taxes, and the majority of people here are not owning homes, they’re renting. So if we lower property taxes for a home, what’s going to say that rent drops for the property even? So it’s a hard solution, it’s a hard thing to come by and I think we need to be able to draw in every important piece for that conversation to be taking place and for us to actually reach a solution that makes everybody happy about it.
Affordable housing is in my wheelhouse. That is what I do by day, I work at the Tlingit-Haida Regional Housing Authority as the director of housing services. One thing we’re getting ready to do right now, is we’re getting ready to start selling some affordable units to the families that are living in the units. As far as at a community level goes, one thing Juneau has in its tool box is that we are the largest property owner in town. I have served on the Affordable Housing Commission for seven years, including one year while I was on the Assembly. One thing we’ve been exploring is the land trust model, where the City and Borough of Juneau can open up property and you lease the property via long term land lease to families, and they don’t ever own the property but they can build a house or they can buy a house, but the property always remains in the ownership of the city or in the ownership of a land trust. It’s been done in other communities across the country and it’s something that we haven’t really fully tapped into here in Juneau yet, but it’s something that I would really like to explore.
We need to have affordable housing in Juneau. You know, part of what I’ve been trying to do is see what other communities are doing and I see, like, these small, less than 1,000 sq. ft. homes and I think ‘can Juneau do this?’ or ‘why can’t Juneau do this?’ It seems like a viable option that would enable first-time buyers to find homes, for single people to be able to afford to build some equity. I’d really like to look at that and to look at what other communities are doing, what other possibilities are for building.
There’s a couple things going on in the works. We did fund some of the affordable housing funds to try to help people with loans. Petersen Hill, if you drive out in the Valley, you can see that it’s already started with Phase 1 and hopefully that will be successful and we can move into Phase 2 and Phase 3. And there’s several private developers in town that have had projects. And we’re still waiting to see what Eagle Rock venture is going to do downtown, and that was for workforce housing.
I don’t have any specific policy. Again, you need to look at the whether or not there’s barriers to entry, whether we’re making the requirements of housing too costly, whether we’re not providing land for private developers to develop. I don’t have any beyond general ideas of looking at whether or not it’s easy for developers to provide more housing. I think that’s the primary thing I would look at.
To address affordable housing, I think we should continue the work that the Assembly has already done on zoning and the selling of city land to provide more room for housing. In addition to that, I think that addressing other economic development needs will help alleviate some of the housing issues that we have if we are spurring other parts of the economy in Juneau.
District 2 Assembly
As far as affordable housing goes, there’s many different ways you can go about it. One of them is incentivizing developers to build. If you’re looking to add affordable housing in a specific area, I think it needs to be defined.
But there’s several ways to go about this. One of them is potentially property tax abatement, which I know the city has looked at recently on the Assembly. But that, along with just smarter regulation. … I see it as a supply and demand issue. If you want more affordable housing you need to encourage more supply. You can encourage more supply by making it easier for developers to build product, not harder. And I think you can do that through less duplication, whether it’s conditional use permits and building permits, and then ultimately incentivizing developers.
That’s a real conundrum. Affordable housing — again, because I believe there’s a link between the cost, the overall cost of Juneau and the housing, and making sure that we don’t increase the taxes, that’s one point, but the other one would be land availability.
One of the opportunities I think we’ve talked about for years is opening up the backside of Douglas. CBJ has land. I believe Goldbelt has land back there. It’s been one of those things that’s been on the backburner. I wouldn’t mind seen that come to the front burner and see if we can finish that project out there.
I think that the Housing First is a great first step for affordable housing in the sense that it addresses the homelessness problem and gets people on their feet. But I think we also need to look broader and take a look at maybe some of the city lands, and maybe do some land grants to really subsidize in a sense the developers to actually look at low cost housing. We have a lot of two-bedrooms and quite a bit of three-bedrooms, but they’re all concentrated down in the valley. What we need is to really get starter homes out there – sorry, get starter homes for families that can afford them that are below the $300,000 mark and preferably more along the condominium $150,000-160,000 mark — which, frankly, with the cost of land and building in Alaska is about as good as we’ll probably get.
Boy, that’s a tough one. I was at the Affordable Housing Commission yesterday and there’s a lot of people really working at it. I know that the city has looked at and actually passed some ordinances that provide for higher density or provide for relaxing some of the rules, for example, creating mother-in-law apartments.
I think it is going to take kind of a concerted effort. There’s also the option of, you know, reducing some of the property taxes, for example, to encourage development. So we’re just getting started and we need to pursue that aggressively. It’s great that we have someone like the housing coordinator Scott Ciambor and Irene Gallion that works with him (on) housing and homelessness, that’s really good and that’s really important. We need to really do what we can to let them help us, basically, and work together as a community.
I think one of the most effective things that we can do that would help families out the most but also bolster our local economy is first-time homebuyer assistance programs. Every family that we convert from a renter family into a home owning family provides stability for the family, … our local economy and our local population, provides stability for the school district.
Homeowners have more net worth at the end of the day than renters. … It solves so many of our housing issues when we take people out of apartments and put them into homes of their own. …
I figure there was some way that the city could help — without subsidizing — but the city could help with a program, either through education or some type of program that assisted first-time homeowners into becoming homeowners.
District 1 Assembly
You can’t build a home in this town and sell it for much less than $200,000-250,000. So if the city could, through incentives with taxes (possibly — that’s a harder one to do since that’s controlled by the state); making land available that takes away some of that cost where the developer doesn’t need to pay for the land and then charge you as part of buying the house for that land. But we have a person within the city, Scott Ciambor, that’s supposedly working on that. I don’t always agree with what he brings back, but I think better minds have to work that out. But right now I don’t have any quick policy initiative that I think would solve the problem.