Planning panel takes up Nome’s housing needs
The Nome Planning Commission has added Nome’s housing shortage to a worktable already covered with zoning issues, abatement of eyesores, road safety, park development, comprehensive planning and animal control.
The group entertained a report from Sue Steinacher, NEST shelter housing coordinator at its regular meeting early this month. Steinacher presented the Commission with a six-page report on housing needs and recommendations.
A major issue underlying Nome’s housing shortage is that it costs more to construct buildings than they will appraise for, so the banks won’t loan.
“Therefore Nome’s housing needs is not a problem private enterprise can solve,” Steinacher said, and explained further:
• High cost of shipping with barge rates nearly equal to airfreight.
• High cost of living makes the cost of supporting a construction work force high.
• High costs have impeded needed infrastructure development—sewer, water and power development too expensive; limited roads and gravel pads, limited privately owned land equals high-priced, limited lots available.
• Renovation, weatherization and maintenance are prohibitive for same reasons.
Additional problems caused by houses 100 or more years old; no clear title and houses in disrepair, some homes built partly off their lots, some close to lot lines that they cannot meet setback requirements to rebuild.
Advice from housing agencies like Alaska Coalition on Housing and Homeless is that needs are obvious, and a housing assessment would only delay addressing the problem, according to Steinacher.
Many families are on waitlists for rentals. Bering Straits Regional Housing Authority has 34 units at market rate, for which 18 families are on the waiting list. BSRHA has 48 low-income and senior housing units with six on the waiting list. BSRHA builds houses only in villages, not in Nome.
AHFC Beringvue has 33 houses for families with 34 families waiting for houses with certain numbers of bedrooms. Rural Alaska is ineligible for AHFC rental voucher programs—prisoner re-entry, kids aging out of the foster care, VASH for Vets program, Moving Home program and low-income vouchers.
Property managers report multiple calls for rentals daily.
Lack of housing makes families double and triple up, bringing the potential for alcohol and sexual and physical abuse into the household.
Lack of rentals brings exacerbating results. Lack of affordable rentals results in privately owned and often substandard housing rented at extremely high prices, Steinacher reported. Children, families and individuals remain trapped in poverty by high rental rates. People making $12-$16 an hour may have to pay $1,600 a month or more for a two-bedroom apartment while feeding a family at local grocery prices.
Potential foster parents cannot become licensed because they may have a relative in the home who has a barrier crime and no other place to go, or the home has too many people in it, or a person with a barrier crime living in the household means the home cannot be used as a Safe Home for a woman fleeing domestic violence. All these situations can lead to children from the Nome region going to Anchorage or Fairbanks away from their families and culture, some never to return.
Lack of housing hurts both ends of the economic spectrum, Steinacher said. Professional positions go unfilled because people refuse to move to Nome.
Nome can work on solutions in a number of ways, according to Steinacher. Nome can create a housing task force, a coalition of major players and agencies to seek solutions and create funding for more affordable housing.
Steinacher suggested half a dozen grant sources for a collaborative search by agencies. For example, Community Development Block Grants for municipalities. Anchorage used 19 percent of CDBG money for housing, whereas rural Alaska used zero percent, Steinacher reported.
She emphasized that in a community survey as part of Nome’s comprehensive plan, the public ranked housing seventh in a list of 25 concerns. Additionally, Steinacher mentioned that the Nome Comprehensive Plan 2020 features a need for housing solutions.
“We all know we have a housing problem, Steinacher said last week. “This seems like the time to see what can be done to address it.”
As an aside, state Dept. of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development has determined the 2015 population of Nome to be 3,819.
Several members of the Commission said after the meeting that they favored pushing for creating a local housing task force.