Juneau's housing problem is serious and complex

Posted: Sunday, July 10, 2005

Vantage Point By Robert Hale, publisher of the Juneau Empire.

Housing in Juneau - the availability and the affordability of housing in particular - has generated much discussion in the past several months. The Juneau Chamber of Commerce, the Juneau Economic Development Council, the local building industry association, members of the Juneau Assembly and local developers, builders and real estate agents have dubbed housing as the most important issue facing the city today.

The housing problem in Juneau is serious and it is complex. It involves the availability and the cost of land, the expansion and development of additional infrastructure in the city itself (expansion of the sewer system in the Mendenhall Valley and on North Douglas Island, for example), how and where new housing developments will take shape and, most important of all, what will be required to make home ownership an affordable reality for more who live in Juneau or hope to someday.

In today's Empire we're kicking off a series of stories that will run through Tuesday. Reported by staff writer I-Chun Che, the series examines a number of factors that are part and parcel of the overall housing issue. Today's stories focus on the heart of the problem: why housing in Juneau is the most expensive in the state and how the price of housing affects people's lives in very real terms. For many the impact is dramatic, as you'll see.

On Monday we'll have stories centered around how the shortage of housing takes its toll on local businesses and how many in Juneau have resorted to living as best they can, whether that's on a boat, in a mobile home or in a single-family dwelling with several housemates. Some Juneauites have resigned themselves to being life-long renters.

Tuesday's stories delve into how the housing problem gets solved and what options the city and local developers and builders have for the short and long terms. The fact that not everyone agrees on potential housing solutions makes the issue all the more thorny.

Empire photographer Michael Penn and page designer Mike Plett teamed with reporter Che to provide photo illustrations and graphic design for the housing series, and the work of the three is quite solid.

Today many would argue that the affordability of housing in Juneau actually outweighs other issues such as the need for a new capitol and the need for a road to Skagway (the road is needed, sure, but if it brings more residents to Juneau, where are they going to live once they get here?).

The bottom line is that the housing issue is inextricably linked to Juneau's future in many ways: economic development, the presence of a stable, qualified work force and even this community's ability to make our state legislators, who live here for some five months each year, feel more at home. Price and lack of availability have kept many here from owning a home, and have caused others to flee to other cities or states where they know they can afford to live. Neither bodes well for Juneau's future.

• Robert Hale is publisher of the Juneau Empire. He can be reached at robert.hale@juneauempire.com.

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