My turn: Era of reasonable house prices not one most want to revisit

Posted: Tuesday, July 19, 2005

There seems to be a lot said in the newspapers lately about the terrible situation in the housing market in Juneau. First, it was the three-day feature series and now the opinion and editorial comments. A lot of dust is being kicked up and when the kicking stops, the dust will settle and things will go back to normal. Facts thrown up in the air with implications leading to wrong conclusions do not help us. I'm not going to do the proper analysis, but you can bet that it will be done by someone.

Housing in Juneau has generally been a problem for newcomers to the area and will continue to be. In the late 1960 and early 1970s, the Empire certainly was not making any money on real estate ads. Who knows why the three or four classified rentals/sales that appeared on a daily basis were even submitted. The homes were gone within hours of paying for the ad, long before being published. Today's real estate market doesn't reveal such tightness. Also, don't talk about affordability. Back then, the younger generation and newcomers to the area didn't have any more resources available to them than now.

The only big time (in the past 40 years) that the real estate market in Juneau has had some slack was in the 1980s after the pipeline was built and Alaska, including Juneau, suffered a great recession after overbuilding. All those who want to return to those years of reasonably priced homes, please raise your hands. Yes, people were just walking away from their places then because they didn't have jobs to pay the mortgage with the 14 percent rate.

What gets me is the unsaid negativity implied in these articles against significant population groups that help keep the Juneau economy going. The lending industry, real estate firms, developers and builders, and many others benefit from a stable market demand for housing. I have known many people, including myself, who have gained a firmer financial foothold as a result of gains on the sale of their first purchased home while moving up to a more accommodating one.

Yes, it is difficult to get into housing that seems adequate but these same recent articles have pointed out most of the ways to get started.

I believe that part of the problem is systemic and has to do with the increased standard of living which we enjoy today. Who wants to give up their cell phone and put those savings aside for a down payment on a home? And who would think of buying a home with only one bathroom? And who would want to car-pool or take a bus to save some money on gasoline?

Then there is all this ruckus about the city government and its taxing strategies and land disposal activities. Sure, they get a bit onerous in what they do. What government doesn't? The implication that their policies are going to ruin the area for development and growth is a bit far-fetched. The Kensington Mine is going to be built and more population will come. Wal-Mart and Home Depot will move in and so will more folk. More roads, including the second crossing, will be built and the infrastructure, including utility systems, will be expanded. We just need to let nature, our local economic system, take its course and try to minimize the problems as it does so.

• Juneau resident Richard Renninger spent 25 years interpreting numbers for the state of Alaska.

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