Kudos to governor for tackling housing

Posted: Monday, May 21, 2007

I am happy to hear that Gov. Sarah Palin has decided to tackle the complicated issue of affordable housing by developing the idea of an Alaska Housing Trust.

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As the prices of housing in the Juneau area increase exponentially, it seems like working Alaskans with low wages have been forgotten in the mix. Thousands of Alaskans spend more than 50 percent of their income on housing, either rental or ownership. A housing trust that functions as a source of state funds to address housing and homelessness would be a much-needed resource for Alaska.

As a former director of the Glory Hole, Juneau's emergency shelter and soup kitchen, I have witnessed firsthand the travails that low-income Alaskans experience on a daily basis. But concern about housing prices is not limited to homeless people. I am very concerned about the future of Alaska's social-services sector. Many workers in social services originally came to Alaska as part of Volunteers In Service To America, Jesuit Volunteers or Americorps programs that subsidize workers by offering stipends or free housing for the year of service.

These young people are great assets to the agencies they join, bringing youthful energy, vision and commitment to their workplaces. Once their volunteer year is completed, many have traditionally continued to work in Alaska's social service fields, while raising families and contributing in countless ways to the communities fortunate to have them as residents.

With the extremely high cost of housing, however, we are now seeing more of these valuable human resources being forced to move out of state to continue their commitment to the social-services sector, because they cannot afford to live here on what they earn. This leaves the very agencies that assist the needy understaffed and unable to effectively serve the growing population of homeless and near-homeless people in our state.

I am pleased that Palin recognizes that affordable housing is of critical importance and has taken real steps to address the issue. I applaud the governor's first steps in solving the problem of homelessness and look forward to the Alaska Legislature taking the next step toward success - funding the Alaska Housing Trust.

Jetta Whittaker


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