Juneau builder Wayne Coogan is approaching Juneau’s longtime housing deficit from two sides: the planning, and the practical.
Coogan, who owns Coogan Construction, recently finished building 28 apartments in West Juneau, a project 14 months in the making. He also serves on the City and Borough of Juneau’s Affordable Housing Commission, a group tasked by the Assembly to help find a solution to Juneau’s housing problem. City officials have deemed it a priority for 2014.
Coogan’s Island Hills Apartments, as well as another recently opened apartment building in Lemon Creek, brought about 50 new units to Juneau’s housing market in the past month or so.
Island Hills Apartments’ two buildings are almost ready for tenants to move in, and “we’ve already got people paying deposits,” Coogan said. There are still units available for rent.
Another building is going up next to the two existing ones, he said. When it’s finished later this year, the third Island Hills building will bring the site’s units to 60.
Boasting big windows, “all 60 units will have views,” Coogan said. His company is responsible for building both Juneau-Douglas High School and Thunder Mountain High School, Bartlett Regional Hospital and the downtown parking garage, among other city structures. Island Hills Apartments will be a $7 million project when it’s all said and done, Coogan said.
“We saved our money and we’re reinvesting it in the Juneau community,” he said.
The apartments are two-bedroom, 1,000-square-foot units. The upstairs spaces are renting for $1,600 per month; the downstairs units are $1,200 per month, partially subsidized by CBJ in exchange for Coogan purchasing gravel for his construction project from the city.
“For every 35 tons of material we buy we’re going to give a rental unit month for $1,200,” Coogan said.
So far, Coogan has racked up 288 reduced-price months for his tenants from the city, he said.
Affordable Housing Commission assembly liaison Jesse Kiehl said it’s “really good to see progress” on Juneau’s housing front in the form of new apartment buildings. New housing units have been on the upswing annually since experiencing a low in 2009, according to city permitting numbers. Sixty-five new units were built in the city in 2011; 74 in 2012; and 156 in 2013.
“That’s really going to help as it continues to lift a heavy weight from Juneau’s economy,” he said. “We want to keep the momentum going on market-rate housing.”
However, he said, low-income housing needs are pressing on Juneau. There are about 750 low-income housing units in Juneau, according to the Juneau Economic Development Council’s 2012 Housing Needs Assessment. About 2,400 Juneau families qualify for low-income housing, according to a past Empire report.
“It’s a segment of our society in Juneau that’s really on the ropes,” Kiehl said.
The city wanted to help Coogan offer “units for below market price” in order to put more affordable housing on the market, he said. However, Coogan doesn’t believe supplying Juneau with affordable housing is as cut and dry as people make it sound.
“In my opinion, there’s no such thing as affordable housing,” Coogan said. He referenced Douglas’ Channel Terrace apartments, low-income housing recently purchased with a grant by Juneau’s St. Vincent de Paul Society.
“It’s expensive housing, built with other people’s money, rented at an affordable price.”
Coogan said the Affordable Housing Commission hopes that introducing new market-rate housing, like Island Hills Apartments, will lower rent elsewhere in the city as people shift to fill the new spaces. Another new development, River Park Apartments in Lemon Creek, has added an additional 23 units to the market.
Builder and owner Bill Heumann, who has built about 400 dwellings in Juneau over the last 30 years, said the demand for housing drove him to build the new units on Davis Avenue.
“As a business person, it became pretty apparent there was a demand for this kind of thing,” he said. “We build these things when we know people will occupy them.”
There are still units available at River Park. Most of the apartments are one-bedroom, renting for $1050.
Coogan and Heumann both said the city’s permitting requirements and regulations are what keep people from building in Juneau. Heumann said that between the new apartments and condominiums he built previously on the same lot, he had to get 26 permits from the city.
“I’m not facetious when I say that once I had my permits, half the work was done before we ever break ground,” he said. “So much of the effort is in the permitting.”
Coogan said that “the whole industry is overregulated.”
“We don’t have a housing problem, we have a regulation problem,” he said. He said that it feels like everything from the height of his window sills to the number of sheets of bedrock under his buildings are regulated.
“It’s ad nauseam.”
More housing options are coming down the pike in 2014. Heumann recently received a conditional use permit from the city to build 15 waterfront condominiums in Auke Bay.
• Contact reporter Katie Moritz at 523-2294 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz.