Empire Editorial: More needed to fix Juneau's housing crisis

City leaders made a step toward improving Juneau’s affordable housing market Monday by approving the rezoning of 152 acres on Pederson Hill in Auke Bay.

It’s good to see a substantial residential construction project moving forward, but building 150 new homes on Pederson Hill over the next decade will only put a ding in Juneau’s housing needs when a it’s a dent that’s needed.

The Assembly is on the right path, but those 150 homes are needed now. By 2029, housing demands will again outweigh supply. If the Assembly can approve more developments on the same scale as the Pederson Hill development, real progress can be made.

Juneau won’t be able to build its way out of its affordable housing conundrum at this rate. Our city needs to get ahead of the problem; that means building more homes than individuals looking to purchase. Low availability keeps prices high. Flooding the market will keep costs down. You don’t need an ECON 101 class to know how supply and demand work. Putting new homes on the market at a quarter of a million dollars each also isn’t “affordable” by most people’s standards — even in Juneau.

According to 2012 housing assessment numbers compiled by the Juneau Economic Development Council, the city needs between 170 to 230 rental units and more than 500 homes for sale to meet current needs. That’s what Juneau needed in 2012. The situation hasn’t improved much since then.

The long-term solution is simple: The city needs to free up more land, as much as possible, and incentivize developers to build — now. Sell the land cheap, with stipulations it be developed within a certain period of time. And by affordable, we don’t mean starting at $250,000.

Juneau needs starter homes to attract and retain younger residents. Despite our population swelling to more than 33,000 citizens, the city has 300 fewer students in Juneau schools than it did in 2008. If people can’t afford to raise their families in Juneau, they won’t. And that’s a problem with an aging population.

The recent Pederson Hill development and the plan approved in October to build 75 rental units in West Juneau is a good start. Now the Assembly needs to capitalize on this forward progress and get ahead of the problem. Turn city land that’s not adding value to the community into much-needed homes for families.

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