Nonprofits create options so low-income residents can rent or purchase homes

Posted: Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Tlingit-Haida Regional Housing Authority is giving Anna Marie Eldemar the chance to buy her own home. There's just one catch: She has to live there for 15 years first.

"Fifteen years are long," said Eldemar, who rents a three-bedroom house in Tlingit-Haida's Glacier Village with her husband and two sons. "If you don't stay, you lose everything."

Tlingit-Haida has been the largest developer of affordable housing in Juneau and throughout Southeast Alaska. During the past 32 years, it has created about 250 affordable housing units in Juneau for Natives and non-Natives, said Ed Phillips, business manager of Tlingit-Haida.

The city has no affordable housing programs, leaving nonprofits to direct programs.

United Way of Southeast Alaska has identified lack of affordable housing as the top worry among city residents. The United Way has commissioned the McDowell Group to identify the seriousness of the problem and options to fix it, Jodi Kilcup, executive director said.

Agencies such as St. Vincent de Paul, Alaska Housing Finance Corp. and Housing First build and rent apartments to low-income people. Tlingit-Haida and Juneau Housing Trust build houses for ownership.

Tlingit-Haida's most recent project, Glacier Village, is tucked away on the Mendenhall Peninsula. The first and second phases of the project provide 50 houses. The third phase, which has 16 units, will be available in July.

One can rent a new three-bedroom house at Glacier Village for $813 to $1,034 per month, with the option of owning the house.

The program is competitive. About 210 people applied for the 25 units of the first phase and 270 people competed for the 25 units of the second phase. More than 350 applicants are being considered for the third phase.

The city has worked with Tlingit-Haida Regional Housing Authority and other nonprofits to assist them in building affordable housing, city officials said. For instance, the city sold land to the Tlingit-Haida, allowing the Native group to develop a subdivision. In return, the city gets a cut of the lots for sale.

But the city doesn't require that developers devote a certain percentage of a housing project for people of low incomes. And it hasn't built apartments or condominiums for people of moderate or low incomes, as some municipalities have.

Many agencies require that a family's income be 80 percent or less of the median family income released annually by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

In Juneau, a person who makes less than $40,250 a year is considered low-income. A family of two that makes less than $46,000 qualifies as low-income. The agencies are unclear about how many such families reside in Juneau.

The following chart helps determine Juneau residents' eligibility for various Tlingit-Haida Regional Housing Authority programs. The median family income figure is from January 2004 and was calculated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Household size

Income level 1 2 3 4 5

Median 100% 59,500 68,000 76,500 85,000 91,800

Low 80% 40,250 46,000 51,750 57,500 62,100

Very low 60% 35,700 40,800 45,900 51,000 55,080

Very, very low 50% 29,750 34,000 38,250 42,500 45,900

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SOURCE: Tlingit-Haida Regional Housing Authority

One difficulty for people seeking information about housing programs is that Juneau has no centralized referral office.

"Some of our clients are also applying for other low-income housing," said Amy Hiley, area coordinator for Alaska Housing Finance Corp. in Juneau. "They have to fill out similar forms. Although we all try to share information and make referrals to other low-income housing providers, there is no one place somebody can go."

Another problem is that what the agencies consider affordable isn't for everyone.

Russell See, 44, said he would like to get some housing assistance but Tlingit-Haida has told him he doesn't make enough money to qualify for a loan.

"I have filled up applications for other places but haven't heard from them," See said. "They either have a long waiting list or we cannot afford it."

See, a taxi driver, and his wife, a part-time travel agent, have rented an efficiency at Fosbee Apartments, near the Governor's Mansion, for six years. The couple turned the unit's walk-in closet into a bedroom with a double bed and a television.

"Our pay is not much and child support takes 40 percent of my paycheck," See said. "About 65 percent of our income goes to rent and lights, telephone."

Eight Juneau families have benefited from the Juneau Housing Trust's home ownership program.

The organization adopted a model called a community land trust, in which the trust retains the land but sells the house to qualified low-income home buyers. The model is popular in areas with high land costs.

"We basically take land out of the equation," said Mike Pellerin, administrator of Juneau Housing Trust.

Under this model, the housing trust ensures a permanent pool of affordable homes by setting the resale price of any home in the land trust. When the house is sold, the owner receives all the money he or she uses to pay off the home mortgage, plus 25 percent of the appreciated value of the home.

"The new homeowner has to meet the same qualification of the original buyers," Pellerin said. "Their income has to be 80 percent of the median income or lower."

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