My turn: Cottage housing fits a niche

Posted: Monday, June 30, 2008

The "big" misnomer about the cottage housing ordinance is: "the purpose is to create affordable housing."

I know this going to seem self-serving because I am a co-licensee of developer Bicknell's housing sales. But I believe the purpose is to fill a demand in the median part of the market in order to dilute the demand for small, old single family homes in order to stabilize prices in the affordable part of the market. Perhaps most importantly, it helps to alleviate the push to expand our developed areas.

When the cottage housing ordinance was put into place and when the Bicknell's permit was applied for, the market desperately needed it. Two years ago our market desperately needed an influx of new, nonattached dwellings in the $300,000 price range. Without them we saw prices soar to almost $300,000 on old attached homes and condominiums built in the 1980s. Talk about over-inflation!

If cottage housing could have been built two years ago, when the Bicknells made their application, the market would have accepted it with open arms and we would not have seen prices for older homes soar to unsustainable prices.

Due to the way the ordinance is written, Bicknell Inc. has little choice but to build a better home. However, they are proposing to build an even better home than the ordinance requires. They have created a niche for themselves by building a better spec-home. It makes sense for them to maintain their niche and just as important it also will help maintain prices in the neighborhood they are currently permitted in.

Detached new construction is not for the average "first-time homebuyer." The market has proven most buyers looking for new construction are buyers who are selling a smaller older home and moving up into a bigger, nicer home or they are empty nesters looking for a smaller, low-maintenance and energy-efficient home.

If they are move-ups they will buy in a different neighborhood. If they are empty nesters or single professionals looking to purchase in a moderate price range, they now have a detached new construction option.

The world isn't perfect, but cottage housing, if done correctly, will help create higher density on the bus line, which alleviates the push to expand outward to North Douglas and the hill before Auke Lake. And due to the ordinance, requirements for better construction will allow for new construction in a part of the market that is desperate for something detached and above all else "new."

But most importantly, it will dilute demand in the median part of the market which will in turn alleviate demand in the affordable part of the market and stop the push to expand our developed areas.

I have represented Bicknell on the sale of more than 50 homes over the past five years and was a co-presenter of the project during Juneau Planning Commission meetings.

• Mike Mauseth is an associate broker of Powell Realty in Juneau.

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