Sep 19, 2009
Mr. Crawford, thank you for your thoughtful commentary Creating a new vision for housing in Alaska in the “My Turn” opinion section of the Juneau Empire. I’ve tried to correlate your work to an article I read recently titled “Forgotten America, Rural Alaska Problems and Solutions”.
Like much of rural Alaska, the people of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region of Western Alaska have great needs. In anticipation of the arrival last month of the secretaries of the U.S. Departments of Energy, Housing and Urban Development, Education, Interior, and Agriculture on their “Rural Tour”, the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation, Calista Corporation, and the Association of Village Council Presidents (AVCP) prepared a comprehensive study, “Forgotten America: Rural Alaska Problems and Solutions”.
“Forgotten America” presents some of the long-standing social and economic challenges in rural Alaska related to critical needs in housing, health, infrastructure, energy, green jobs, climate change and the subsistence economy. The publication addresses, individually, the various Departments of Agriculture, Education, Energy, Housing and Urban Development, and the Interior. Each area of concern is presented not only as a statement of critical issues in this region, but is followed with specific recommendations requesting help. The citizens of this region respectfully urge the cabinet members to hear their comments, understand their difficulties, and effect needed changes in Washington to improve the lives of the Alaskan people.
While similar points are brought up from one section to another, and discussion often overlaps among the various departments, one of the more comprehensive areas might be focused in Housing and Urban Development, pages 12-15.
A couple of things stand out here. AVCP Housing Authority is a nonprofit organization that serves the AVCP region in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. It builds between 25-50 homes annually and modernizes/repairs about 250 more annually. The authority spends about $8.7 million in new housing construction per summer, plus another $3.75 million for modernization projects, thus a total of about $12.45 million goes to summer work projects in its villages.
Today, according to the AVCP, about 3,500 new, safe homes are needed in the Y-K Delta region alone. At a cost of about $250,000-300,000 per 3-bedroom house, the estimated funding needed to resolve this housing crisis in the Y-K Delta ranges from about $800 million to about $1 billion. At the current rate of funding each year, around $10 million, “…it will take 105 years to build these 3,500 homes. AVCP Housing, and other housing authorities in rural Alaska, need larger amounts of annual funding to meet the housing needs of rural Alaska in a more timely fashion. The health and well-being of Native Alaskans living in villages continues to be in jeopardy because of substandard housing and overcrowded conditions.”
Further attention addresses what few numbers of rural Y-K Delta villages have water and sewer services in the form of piped water, even though Alaska receives an unspecified amount of funding from the federal government for these improvements. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of rural people use 5-gallon paint buckets as toilets, then laboriously haul the contents out near the village to be dumped into an open “sewage lagoon” or “bunker”, which, of course, does not meet even minimum standards for health and safety. The villages need “adequate funding to develop and implement Solid Waste Management Plans that will plan for the closure and rehabilitation of existing dump sites, develop hazardous waste programs, eliminate honey buckets, and construct new, safe landfills.”
More discussion continues about the region’s homes and buildings being poorly insulated, the delivery each summer of expensive diesel fuel barged upriver to the remote villages to provide winter heat and year-round electricity, and often inefficient and outdated appliances used to heat substandard houses. Also addressed is the extremely long wait-list for an energy audit by one of only 2 Energy Raters for all homes in the far-reaching expanses of the region in order to get some critically needed help weatherizing the great numbers of substandard housing.
The regional residents clearly know what their housing needs are, and their recommendations to the cabinet members are: “Create jobs in villages by providing funding to train village staff to be Energy Raters as well as Weatherization/Energy Conservation Technicians that specialize in building construction and energy savings technologies. Additionally provide funds that can be used to develop a revolving loan program to make home improvements since many families are unable to purchase energy efficiencies without assistance…”
Further discussion addresses the melting of the permafrost in the global warming of the region, thereby damaging building infrastructures. Due to widespread poverty of the region, untreated lumber lies at the foundation of much of the substandard housing and now rots faster than in the past due to rising global temperatures. Beetles and carpenter ants further damage the untreated lumber and make the houses less stable. Problems with mold erupt as home integrity fails. The Y-K Delta groups request that AVCP receive “sufficient funds to level 1,743 Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program homes over a 3 year period at a cost of $6,000 per home. Five hundred eighty-one homes per year will be leveled which will create numerous regional job opportunities.”
I encourage all AB readers to take a few minutes to look at this document. The regional residents clearly explain their issues of concern, know what they need, and urgently request help from our federal leaders. You might even ponder, as I do, for what period of time, for how many years, have these same requests been made by the people, then ignored by all levels of governments–local, state and federal?
“Every year, an assessment of the sanitation needs of Native Americans across the country is completed for the Indian Health Service…the estimated 2009 total sanitation needs of Alaska’s Native Villages is 429 projects with a cost of $736 million for their completion. It does appear that development of water and sewer services in the Y-K Delta is deliberately delayed, while the rest of Alaska communities have been enjoying water and sewer services for decades.” (page 13)
“IT DOES APPEAR THAT DEVELOPMENT OF WATER AND SEWER SERVICES IN THE Y-K DELTA IS DELIBERATELY DELAYED, WHILE THE REST OF ALASKA COMMUNITIES HAVE BEEN ENJOYING WATER AND SEWER SERVICES FOR DECADES.”
I’d love to see a correlation of how many Alaskan prisoners are housed in facilities with hot and cold running water, with access to hot showers, three meals a day, and flush toilets, and compare their numbers to the thousands of peaceful, law-abiding Alaskans toting nasty honey buckets to open sewage lagoons year-round, often in zero temperatures. Does that strike you, like it does me, as JUST PLAIN WRONG?
If you are interested, photos of the Rural Tour’s day’s trip to Bethel, AK, in August can be found at http://www.adn.com/2009/08/12/896115/rural-tour.html.
If you’d like to read the USDA press secretary’s follow-up, written after the cabinet members’ Alaska rural tour, see Rural Tour visits Alaska.