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Housing Commission seeks further Assembly support

Posted: May 21, 2013 - 12:09am

The Affordable Housing Commission went before the Borough Assembly Committee of the Whole Monday night seeking its support in maintaining focus on affordable housing.

The commission offered several platitudes that sought a more defined leadership roll, a finite housing plan, buildable lands disposal and overall commitment from the Assembly.

“One of our big focuses this year has been in regards to the housing action plan. Right now the Affordable Housing Commission has a 2012 housing needs assessment,” commission chair Norton Gregory said. “The housing needs assessment clearly defines our housing stock in our community as well as our housing needs. One of the primary focuses of the Affordable Housing Commission this year has been how do we implement and create an affordable housing action plan?”

They've spent the last few months working with a diverse range of community-based groups such as builders, realtors and lenders to figure out why affordable housing hasn't been built.

Gregory noted that the Affordable Housing Fund had been created and was echoed by commissioner Justin Shearer.

The commission sought an experienced affordable housing coordinator provided by the CBJ.

“Do you people understand where we are at with the budget at this time?” Mayor Merrill Sanford said, noting the effects of the budget and its cycle. “And tell me why we can't continue on with JEDC helping and coordinating some of this with you? Is there a reason why they can't keep doing it?”

The Juneau Economic Development Council has in the past provided support to the Affordable Housing Commission.

“I think from the commission's standpoint, in the beginning why we had the position created, we wanted a dedicated person that just spoke for affordable housing,” Shearer said. “And JEDC has kind of cut some of those pieces up into responsibilities for different people. … We didn't want three different jobs for three different people. We wanted one job for one person.”

Assembly member Karen Crane asked for clarification over whether the commission believed the Assembly was cutting funding.

Alaska Housing is no longer providing funding which covered half of the position created for the Affordable Housing Commission's liaison to JEDC. CBJ covered the other half.

The Commission presented the Assembly with affordable housing plans from other cities. The Commission offered alternatives to current incentives such as tax incentives or grants, noting that the plans were modeled after larger metropolitan economies.

“It really was set up, originally, to match some larger funds from bigger communities like Baltimore that had much more active publicly funded types of projects for low income housing,” commissioner Margaret O'Neal said. “One of the things we would like to do as part of an action plan is make that funding source more attractive.”

“I think we'd be interested in hearing from the Affordable Housing Commission on what would make that more effective. I know it's not huge, but if we could get some projects going we'd be interested in hearing from you,” Crane said.

Assembly member Jesse Kiehl and Assembly member Carlton Smith commended the Commission's hard work and praised their efforts through working with a diversified body of potential landlords and developers.

“Every single one of them has a day job and they work remarkably hard,” Kiehl said.

In closing, the commission asked the Assembly to “maintain its focus on this community-wide issue to ensure it stays on top of mind among CBJ staff,” according to the letter presented to the Assembly.

Mayor Sanford said, “you guys have got to stay in touch with us and you have to pay attention to what we're doing, because we're working on the same goals and objectives that you are. … Sometimes it seems like there is a disconnect between this Committee and us as your Assembly members. We need to make sure that we open up communications more. … Everything you've talked about tonight is basically stuff that has come up through the last six months of the housing push we've done here.”

In other business, Rorie Watt, director of the CBJ Engineering Department, presented information culled from an environmental assessment on the disposal of snow. Snow disposal is regulated under state water quality.

The Assembly wished to know if the city could continue to dump snow at the former public works shop site by the bridge.

“The crux of the issues is that dumping clean snow into the ocean may seem logical,” Watt wrote in a update to the Assembly, “but the burden of proving it is clean is on the dumper.”

A downtown snow storage site plan has been effected and will be completed by Aug. 1.

• Contact reporter Kenneth Rosen at 523-2250 or at  kenneth.rosen@juneauempire.com.

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