Legislative housing not a problem

Plenty of vacancies left for lawmakers, staff as session nears

Posted: Sunday, January 09, 2000

The vacancy signs are out in Juneau.

Several legislators and aides moving to Juneau for the 4-month legislative session say finding housing is a breeze compared to past years.

``It was easy,'' said Ryan Colgan, an aide to Fairbanks Republican Rep. Jim Whitaker.

He's staying at the Breakwater Inn for the duration of the session, a deal that's costing him about $800 a month. ``I'm pleased with it,'' he said.

Rep. Andrew Halcro, an Anchorage Republican, said he's found better accommodations than he had last year, his first year as a legislator. ``From what I understand it's a lot better than it used to be,'' he said.

A property owner was circulating a flyer advertising a rental during the September special session on subsistence and Halcro lined up housing then. His staff members have also found places to live, he said.

Pam Varni, executive director of the Legislative Affairs Agency, said there doesn't seem to be any shortage of legislative housing this year. The agency posts listings of available rentals and tries to help lawmakers or aides if they're having trouble finding a place to stay.

``We have a real large housing list and we haven't heard that there's anyone having trouble finding anything,'' Varni said.

As of Friday afternoon, the agency still had more than 100 houses, apartments or house-sharing situations listed as available.

Maria Mattson, a property manager for Ricker & Associates, said the supply of housing seems ample this year.

``I've got a whole list of rentals and I've gotten one call from a legislative person this week,'' she said. ``It sounds to me like people are finding places. I'm not getting a lot of frantic phone calls, anyway.''

The situation isn't perfect, however. Some aides said the prices still seem high.

Mattson, however, said some property owners are lowering rents. She's seen reductions ranging from $50 to $200.

``They've had to come down,'' she said, ``because the supply, there's a lot more rentals out there and not as many people looking.''

John Manly, an aide to Valdez Republican Rep. John Harris, lives in Juneau so he doesn't have to worry about housing. He's been trying to find a good spot for two of his co-workers who are coming in from out of town, however, and he hasn't found exactly what they're looking for yet - a two-bedroom apartment they can share that's downtown.

But the housing situation is definitely improved over previous years, he said.

In the past legislators and staff have sometimes found it quite difficult to find a place to stay and the places they found were not always particularly desirable.

The Alaska Committee, which works to keep the capital in Juneau, set up a rental inspection service in 1997 after hearing complaints from lawmakers and staff about overpriced apartments with problems ranging from dirty dishes left behind to broken windows and furnaces.

This year the Alaska Committee hasn't had to spend time on the issue of legislative housing, chairman Win Gruening said.

``I think, speaking for the committee, we feel that housing availability is so good at this point that we haven't been focusing on it at all,'' he said. ``We have not heard at this point . . . any legislators who have had trouble obtaining housing.''

Nancy Barnes, an aide to Angoon Democratic Rep. Albert Kookesh, lives in Juneau so she doesn't have to find a place to live during the session, but she hasn't heard of anyone else having any trouble.

``I haven't seen any e-mails coming around saying, `Help,' '' she said.

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