Residents find unique solutions to cope with high housing costs

Posted: Sunday, July 10, 2005

Juneau's sky-high housing prices have forced some people into RV living, communal housing or buying floating homes.

Some people in their 30s and 40s prolong something of a college life by sharing the rent with friends. Some seek shelter in boats and recreational vehicles, hoping that these cheaper alternatives will allow them to save money for a house one day.

Arnie and Jeannie Blancher have lived in a recreational vehicle with their 3-year-old daughter, Kylee, for a month. The family of three moved out of a duplex in late April after their landlord received his property assessment and saw the value of the property had appreciated.

"He put the house on the market and it was sold the first day," said Arnie Blancher, who works for an auto body shop. "We gave notice before the new owner kicked us out."

With only a month to find a new place, the couple scrambled to check out condos, houses and boats, but none suited their needs. They thought about buying a 105-year-old log cabin but changed their minds at the last minute.

"One of the specifications was that we cannot tear down the house," said Jeannie Blancher, 39. "It was going to take a lot of work to renovate the house."

Their search ended when they found a 7-month-old recreational vehicle selling for $29,000. Now the couple pays $400 for parking in the Auke Bay R/V Park and $750 for their RV loan cable and electricity. And the monthly cost is cheaper than their previous rent, $1,300 for a three-bedroom, two-bath duplex.

"The best part is that you own it," said Arnie Blancher, 35. The Blanchers plan to buy a piece of land in Juneau and build their own house one day.

Their neighbor, Dave Darling, has lived in the park for seven years.

"This is the cheapest way you can live in Juneau," said Darling, a retired insurance broker.

Divorced twice, the 71-year-old calls his vehicle his "refugee camp with a beautiful view."

Mark Burgoyne, an unemployment specialist for the state, has lived in a 46-foot-long sailboat, the Chelsea Sky, since 1991. He sold his condominium because he didn't want to spend money on dues, insurance and property taxes that increased every year.

"It's quite large and comfortable," said Burgoyne, 62. "When I went to Pelican to teach, I took my house with me."

Burgoyne said living in a boat and paying for a 1,700-square-foot storage unit is still cheaper than living in a condo. He pays $500 a month for the storage unit and $500 a month for moorage, the liveaboard fee, electricity and phones.

For people who don't want to or can't invest money in housing but prefer to live on land, renting a house with friends is an alternative.

Noelle Blanc, a massage therapist, has shared a house downtown with two friends for two years. She said she likes it because it is cheaper than living by herself. The three of them sometimes have dinner or watch a movie together.

Although she enjoys the company, Blanc wants a place of her own.

"We totally get along," Blanc said. "But I am 31. I like to live by myself."

She has checked several places, but doesn't think she can buy a house by herself in Juneau. She couldn't afford those she liked. And she didn't like those she could afford.

"When I think about the future, the price of housing is the only thing that deters me from living here for the long term," Blanc said.

But for some who have lived communally for a long time, it has become a lifestyle rather than necessity.

Mark Ridgway, 38, has rented a house for eight years and subleased two other rooms. Sometimes five people share the north Douglas home. That doesn't include guests.

As a federal employee, Rigdway earns a good salary and can afford to buy a house, he said. But he is unwilling to spend a big portion of his income on a mortgage.

"I don't feel like locking myself in a market that might bubble," Ridgway said. "I'd rather not have our entire retirement wrapped up in buying a house."

Although parking can be a headache, Ridgway said he likes living with other people. His refrigerator door is decorated with pictures of and postcards from people who have lived in the house over the years.

"A lot of people don't have a family here," Ridgway said. "My favorite is a big family dinner in the winter. Everybody brings something to the table."

But Ridgway said he has been looking for a house since he got married two years ago.

"It seems that houses come with family. You want more privacy," Ridgway said. "But it is a lot of money to gamble when you have an economic and comfortable lifestyle."

• I-Chun Che can be reached at

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