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Housing First seeks to boost Juneau's affordable housing options

Posted: November 9, 2011 - 1:00am

Housing First is a member of the non-profit community that is dedicated to providing affordable housing to the moderate, low-income, and needy populations in Juneau.

Financial support for such agencies is critical at a time when the homeless population is steadily growing larger and there are fewer available rentals of apartments or homes, either for lower prices or for fair market rental prices.

Housing costs for the lower and moderate-income households in Southeast Alaska are burdensome. According to the Juneau Economic Development Council, one-third of Juneau households spent, in 2008, 30 percent or more of their income on household costs including rent, mortgages and taxes. Some 12 percent spent more than 50 percent of their income. Those with yearly incomes of less than $35,000 were the most severely impacted. This included renters as well as homeowners.

Housing First, like other agencies providing emergency shelter, transitional housing, and subsidized housing, has a small and uncertain stream of income. We need an increase in the dollars spent as a bulwark, in these times of great and urgent need, to forestall what may quickly become a crisis situation.

In 2008, approximately 41 percent of all Juneau households were considered low income. Using the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development standard of 80 percent or less of the area median income, 10 percent were extremely low, 10 percent were very low, 20 percent were low and 41 percent were at the average median income. Groups included in the lower income ranges were:

• The homeless

• The elderly

• The mentally handicapped

• The physically handicapped

• Minimum wage earners

• Service workers

According to the JEDC in its November 2010 report for the City and Borough of Juneau’s Housing Needs Assessment, “Creation of affordable housing creates economic benefits that come from savings on rent and mortgages that can otherwise be spent in the local community.” It would remove people from transitional, temporary, and emergency housing to more permanent dwellings. It would stabilize their lives and permit them to get jobs, thus removing them from welfare rolls and allow them to become contributors to the community.

Building new rental units of one- and two-bedroom apartments would meet the current demand for 343 places needed by people who cannot afford to buy, are currently couch surfing, living with relatives, are income burdened, or otherwise unsuitably housed.

Assistance with building new homes, as Housing First provides, has substantial and long-term benefits for the community. The National Association of Home Builders in 2009 concluded that construction of 25 homes would create 74 jobs (48 direct jobs and 26 induced jobs) with a payroll of several million dollars in jobs for local businesses plus taxes, fees and permits for the government. The annual recurring impacts from homeowners’ taxes and participation in the local economy year after year were calculated as over $900,000 in local income and $300,000 in “government revenue” with concomitant newly created jobs as well.

In addition to having an immediate income impact, more homes create communities which attract people to the area to live, work and invest money to the local economy. It addresses the need for more living quarters for more people within their ability to pay.

Hillview Apartments in Douglas and Strasbaugh Apartments in Juneau are products of Housing First’s past efforts. The next project is single room occupancy housing. To go forward we are looking for:

• Land appropriate for the new project

• Donations of money, time, or professional expertise

• Volunteer board members willing to attend monthly meetings and spend 6-8 hours monthly on Housing First business

You may reach us at: Housing First, 119 Seward St. Suite 4, Juneau, AK 99801; by phone at 463-1276, by email at housingfirst@gci.net or online at www.juneauhousingfirst.org.

• Decker is a board member of Housing First.

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