Sep 16, 2009
By Jim Crawford | My Turn, Juneau Empire
Nearly 4,000 homes in Alaska are “falling apart,” according to Alaska Housing Finance Corporation’s 2008 Housing Assessment. The report says 12,980 homes are needed to replace the overcrowded and substandard houses; 3,972 homes are unsafe, unsanitary and unrepairable.
In 2005, 4,500 homes were labeled as unrepairable. The difference, sadly, is the result of a change in sampling and refocus of the report from units to residents. No progress was noted for thousands of Alaskans who live in unsafe, unsanitary and substandard housing.
I hoped HUD’s Neighborhood Revitalization Program funding would start replacing unlivable housing. However, aside from the continuing focus in Mountain View, nothing much happened with the $19.6 million. Neighborhood Revitalization could purchase only vacant foreclosed homes. All those homes that are occupied but unsafe continue to decay, except for those mobile homes and cabins that burn and kill people. AHFC blames HUD. HUD blames Congress. Alaskans die.
Neither HUD nor AHFC have an effective program to acquire, relocate, remove, renovate or replace dilapidated housing. They just report on it.
Alaska also has twelve regional housing authorities that use BIA NAHASDA funds, (Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act). These can be used to acquire, remove or renovate all dilapidated housing. The Denali Commission also helps in rural areas. Urban, non-Native housing operators need not apply.
In the 1950s, HUD had an urban renewal program. HUD tore down shanties and rebuilt housing; selling to families with FHA financing and improving the private stock. Urban renewal fostered commercial buildings as well. Crime-infested bars on lower Fourth Avenue in Anchorage were bulldozed under urban renewal.
Today, AHFC proudly proclaims its dividends to Alaska. About $1.5 billion in profits have been diverted from housing to state overhead since 1986. While thousands of Alaskans, urban and rural, live in squalor, AHFC’s mission goes unmet. AHFC celebrated $35 million in profits last year.
AHFC’s mission is “To provide Alaskans access to safe, quality, affordable housing.” Not another dime should be diverted to government overhead until the death traps and fire hazards are gone from Alaska’s housing. About 4,000 homes, all tinderboxes, are just waiting for a match. Bad housing kills people every year.
Governments get into a habit of reporting problems instead of solving them. Last year’s Housing Assessment indicates 63 percent of the state’s unrepairable housing is located in rural Alaska. The Legislature should task the 12 regional housing authorities with the correction and fund it from 63 percent of the housing profits of Alaska Housing. Working with urban non-profits, the Legislature should require AHFC to implement an urban acquisition, rehabilitation and/or replacement program that knocks down unsafe, unsanitary housing and replaces it with new housing units for sale or rent. Nonprofits such as Habitat for Humanity should be encouraged to apply. 37 percent of the AHFC profits from housing should be plowed back into fixing urban housing.
In comparing 2008 housing through 1991’s and 2005’s Housing Assessments, the report states “The total number of housing units estimated to be overcrowded has hovered around 20,000 units. If we apply this same methodology to the 2008 housing assessment we will arrive at a number that is just under 20,000 (18,428 to be exact.)”
For 27 years, since 1991, Alaska’s overcrowded and unsafe housing has not changed. That defines mission failure.
Incredibly, the assessment concludes: “It is not possible that all of the housing needed to alleviate overcrowding and substandard housing will occur in one building season or even in ten. Even if the funding were available to build all of the needed units, it would take considerable time to get the job done. For this reason an estimate of gross cost is not terribly meaningful.”
After studying this problem since 1991, AHFC has yet to define a solution or a cost to correct unsafe housing in Alaska.
The Legislature should examine AHFC’s mission. It may be time for a new mission for AHFC. A mission that includes housing solutions defined in dollars, days and contracts to completion: a mission with a strategic plan that eradicates unsafe housing statewide. That might be a mission worthy of our $1.7 billion capital investment in AHFC.
• Jim Crawford is a third generation Alaskan and the former deputy executive director of Alaska State Housing Authority, the predecessor to AHFC. He is a Southcentral real estate broker and developer who welcomes feedback. He can be reached at C21jcrawford@aol.com.
Reprinted with permission from the author