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Rural Alaska

Arctic rife with housing problems, according to new report

  • Author: Shady Grove Oliver, The Arctic Sounder
  • Updated: February 11
  • Published February 11

There is a housing crisis in northern Alaska. Local residents, politicians and corporations have been talking about it for years and the numbers presented in the 2018 statewide housing assessment released recently by the Alaska Housing Finance Corp. back up their concerns.

The far north boasts three of the state's top four most overcrowded housing landscapes. Energy costs put pressure on households, especially those with low incomes. Many homes are old and drafty or too airtight with little circulation. There isn't enough senior housing to fill the current need, much less the needs of the future.

As one of the most stark comparisons, the Arctic and Bering Straits regions' issues with overcrowding are many times greater than the national average.

Overcrowding is defined by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as more than one person per room and severe overcrowding as more than 1.5.

About 3 percent of U.S. homes have too many people in them (2 percent overcrowded, 1 percent severely). In Alaska, the numbers are more than double with 4 percent overcrowded and an additional 3 percent severely overcrowded.

Those numbers pale in comparison to the Arctic's. A whopping 27 percent of homes are too full in the Arctic Slope region (15 percent overcrowded, 12 percent severely). That's more than eight times the national average. The Bering Straits region has a different breakdown at 14 percent overcrowded and 13 percent severely overcrowded.

Unfortunately, the NANA region trumps both with 39 percent total (18 percent overcrowded, 21 percent severely), or about 12 times the national average. The tightest conditions can be found in the Calista region with 17 percent and 23 percent, respectively, for a total of 40 percent.

In each of these areas, the problem is exacerbated in the rural parts of the region, meaning the outlying villages. The hub communities of Utqiaġvik, Kotzebue and Nome show significantly lower rates.

There aren't enough houses as is and populations in northern Alaska are expected to grow over the next several years, though not as much as some parts of the state. To keep up with growth, the Arctic Slope region is projected to need about 78 new housing units by 2020 and 149 by 2025. The NANA region would need about 61 by 2020 and 122 by 2025. The numbers in the Bering Straits region are slightly higher, with 123 needed by 2020 and 246 by 2025.

For comparison, the Doyon region, which covers much of the Interior, is expected to grow much faster over the coming years. It needs more than 1,300 homes in the next two years and nearly 2,500 in the next seven.

Another population projected to grow in the coming years is that of seniors, or elders. In the Arctic Slope, there are about 74 beds in senior housing facilities currently. However, there are about 400 more seniors than that living in the region, which is expected to more than double by 2030.

The NANA region is projected to have nearly 1,000 seniors within the next decade and a half. There are about 557 now, according to the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, but only about 19 beds in senior housing facilities. Many seniors live at home or with family members, but the difference between population and availability is severe.

While these numbers may be startling, the effects of these issues are well-known in the regions they reflect. Additionally, there are potential options for closing, or at least narrowing, these gaps. The Sounder will bring you additional reporting on housing needs in the Arctic over the next several months.

Shady Grove Oliver can be reached at sgoarctic@gmail.com.

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