Juneau looks to tap federal housing aid

Agency plans to allocate $508,000 to city, which has 2 percent of state's foreclosures

Posted: Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Juneau has one of the lowest foreclosure rates in Alaska, which has the lowest rate in the nation. Nonetheless, the borough can still get a bit of the $3.92 billion pot that Congress is doling out to help communities recover from the housing crisis.

But those who want it had better be ready.

"Congress said, 'We don't want money stuck in the pipeline. We want it out, out, out,' " said Leland Jones, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

That's the trend in the housing industry now, said Scott Ciambor, affordable housing staffer at United Way in Juneau, and chairman of the Juneau Homeless Coalition.

"There is going to be a lot of money flowing down," Ciambor said. "Locally, we don't have a vehicle set up to adapt quickly, to receive these funds and get them out into the community."

Under the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program established this year, states get money to rehabilitate neighborhoods, according to how badly they've been hit. California and Florida are getting more than $500 million each. But Congress also said states would receive at least a minimum amount; that's what Alaska and 18 other states in less dire situations will get.

The Alaska Housing Finance Corp. plans to dole out $17.6 million to different parts of the state by how many of the foreclosures, subprime loans and defaults each area has.

AFHC plans to allocate $508,000 to Juneau, which has 2 percent of the foreclosures in the state. Anchorage and the Mat-Su Borough, with many more mortgages and also a higher foreclosure rate, have 53 percent of them and will get $8.2 million.

In Juneau, 1.4 percent, or 67 of 4,679 mortgages, were in foreclosure during the first half of 2008, according to HUD estimates. The statewide rate was about 2 percent.

The agency plans to start asking organizations to come up with ways to spend the money in January. Ciambor said he's expecting about a three-month window for submissions, which requires a quick response.

For most of the money, organizations or local developers will need to identify specific foreclosed or abandoned properties that they want to buy at a discount, rehab and offer as affordable housing. The Juneau Homeless Commission, the Juneau Housing Trust or Housing First are among the possible partners here.

The money can also go to demolishing blighted structures, redeveloping vacant properties or establishing land banks that buy foreclosed properties.

Cathy Johnson, Residential Mortgage lender, was keeping her eye on foreclosure notices on behalf of local nonprofits. An ideal property would be on the bus line; it would have single-room occupancies, which are in short supply; and it would have multiple units. And it would have to be headed for the auction block soon.

In the bigger picture, Ciambor is looking at ways Juneau might react more quickly to such funding opportunities, such as creating a land bank. But in the meantime, he wants to get the word out about this particular free half-million dollars.

"It's a golden opportunity," he said.

• Contact reporter Kate Golden at 523-2276 or kate.golden@juneauempire.com.

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