Affordable Housing Commission seeks housing coordinator

Loan program would pay for new position for one year

Posted: Monday, June 15, 2009

The effort to bring more affordable housing to Juneau's market needs a full-time, dedicated person to coordinate it, the city's Affordable Housing Commission has decided.

The seven-member group appointed by the Assembly wants the city to use low-income housing funds to pay for a coordinator who would work for the Juneau Economic Development Council for one year.

The commission voted 6-1 to move forward with the plan. The vote was followed by a preliminary proposal by the JEDC indicating the work would cost about $100,000.

Three meetings this week will address the particulars of the new position.

Funding comes from a loan program for low-income housing that is generating about $50,000 a year. Its balance is about $500,000.

Diane Slater, the member of the housing commission who voted against the plan, said she'd rather see the position stay at the United Way, where work on affordable housing has been done part-time for at least two years. She also said the move might mean the homeless receive fewer services.

Steve Sorenson, chairman of the housing commission, did not respond to requests for an interview.

The change in managing organizations is partly the reason why the United Way will lose one position on its three-person staff, Executive Director Brenda Hewitt said.

For two years, the city gave $22,000 a year to United Way to coordinate affordable housing efforts. Combined with an Alaska Mental Health Trust grant and general donations, Hewitt was able to piece together a full-time position.

The grant is ending, and it looks like city funds will end as well if the new position is created under the JEDC. But Hewitt said it doesn't matter that funds are moving away from United Way, as long as the work gets done.

"From a community standpoint I don't care whether it's at United Way or the JEDC; it's making sure the task transpires," she said.

The JEDC is a private nonprofit that works to expand economic opportunities in the region, including retaining jobs and offering small business assistance. One of its goals is to make available options for affordable housing for low and middle income families.

Hewitt said she would try to work with the Juneau Homeless Coalition or hire a volunteer to make up for lost resources, but Slater said she is concerned the United Way's work helping the homeless will be dropped.

Slater formerly worked as an intern at United Way. Rather than hire a coordinator, she said she'd rather see the money put homeless people in apartments.

"The commission wanted it at the JEDC because they have the ability to do more research and data collection," Kiefer said. "The thing about affordable housing solutions is, there's not a silver bullet. There's so many different pieces, the commission wants someone to coordinate it."

Nonprofits that deal with housing needs are invited to attend the meetings to help define the coordinator position, Kiefer said.

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