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Advocates say Anchorage’s housing shortage contributes to the number of people experiencing homelessness

Published: Nov. 22, 2021 at 6:33 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Homelessness advocates say the housing shortage that Anchorage has been battling for the past eight years could be a factor in the homelessness crisis the city is also experiencing.

“There’s money for people to be housed, there’s just not the housing stock to put them in,” said Lisa Sauder, the CEO of Bean’s Cafe.

Sauder says the money is there, however, the housing that is needed for people transitioning away from being homeless is not available.

“We need to get people housed in order to continue to decompress the shelter and get people out of emergency shelter,” Sauder said.

This, she says, creates a barrier to ending homelessness for those who are financially ready to purchase a home or move into a rental property. The issue of the city’s housing shortage, with the housing market growing tighter, has been a problem for the past eight years, according to Bill Popp, CEO of the Anchorage Economic Development Corporation. Popp says it’s an issue he expects to be ongoing well into the middle of this decade.

Everything from lack of space to build on to higher costs of construction in Anchorage compared to the Lower 48 factor into housing being more expensive, according to Popp.

“It all just kind of adds together to just create a very expensive market to build in, a very challenging market for developers to find opportunities to develop in, and it’s led to the situation that we are in right now,” Popp said. “Which is next to no new construction combined with a very small amount of inventory available for sale.”

Popp said there were just under 400 housing units listed for sale in Anchorage at the end of October. But those which are listed are being purchased at a fast rate.

“There’s still a lot of demand. There’s been a lot of demand pent up from the lack of construction, but there’s also a lot of demand caused by the unexpected consequences of COVID-19,” Popp said.

Additionally, Popp says that apartments are experiencing a low vacancy rate on top of escalating rent prices. He said some of the larger landlords are seeing around a 2% vacancy rate.

Popp says the housing shortage this year is the worst the city has seen in over a decade. And with the availability rate low, Sauder says someone homeless might be overlooked while going through the rental process.

“Many times when landlords are running at a 2% vacancy rate, why are they going to take a chance on somebody who’s been homeless? Why should they? They don’t have to,” Sauder said. “And it makes a very difficult situation.”

This, Sauder said, creates a limitation for those who are looking to get back on their feet. The problem now is no longer a financial burden, but an inability to find a home address.

“When we left (the) shelter at Sullivan Arena, we know that there were 22 people that were working that couldn’t find housing even though they had funds,” Sauder said.

This makes available housing a key variable to one of the solutions for Anchorage’s homelessness crisis.

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