With local officials boasting stable economic growth and lowering unemployment rates, those of us in the housing industry have to wonder why single family building permits have hit a six-year low for July with only 22 permits. This number is lower than even the permits issued during the most recent recession years. Here's how it stacks up:

July Single Family Permits
2007 25
2008 40
2009 29
2010 34
2011 28
2012 30
2013 22

     These numbers also include land use permits for Eagle River, Chugiak and Girdwood. For a community of over 300,000 people, these permits don't even begin to replace homes destroyed by fire, abandonment or demotion. So why the low number of permits?

     It's easy to blame the lack of developable land. It's true that we have a shortage of R1 or R1A land which is the zoning for single family homes. It's also true that the remaining land in this zone is plagued by poor soils, high water table, wetlands, steep slopes and in some cases, required creek setbacks. But all these costs can be somewhat mitigated by innovative land use design. What can't be compensated for is the lack of cooperation between Anchorage Water and Waste Utility and the Municipality of Anchorage when it comes to the extension of water/sewer and roads. We have water/sewer extensions where we have no roads. We have roads where we have no utility extensions. The southern portion of C Street is a prime example where we lack utility infrastructure.

     Private developers can't be expected to pay the entire price for collector roads and major water/sewer infrastructure for this community. Part of that cost used to be shared with the MOA but that hasn't happened for over 20 years. And it has been 20 years since we've had a robust housing market. Instead, that market has gone to the Valley where home building has outpaced Anchorage for the last ten years. Federal officials have finally figured out that a robust housing market is the key to a strong economy. Unfortunately, our local officials have yet to realize that home building creates high paying skilled jobs and home buyers strengthen the local economy when they buy refrigerators, window coverings, et cetera.

     Subdivision delays are also a hidden underlying reason for lack of single family housing. In years past, developers could buy raw land in January and develop a subdivision in the summer. Good luck with that today. Instead, developers have to plan on a minimum of two to three years for a subdivision permit. The process of multiple reviews increases civil engineering costs and interest charges. The community spent ten years on the Title 21 rewrite which defines what our community looks like above the ground but almost no one, except a handful of engineers and developers, has heard of the Design Criteria Manual which dictates how our roads will be built and lighting, landscaping, drainage standards enforced which are frequently more onerous than state and federal standards with the same area of town.

     Variance requests from the Design Criteria Manual must be applied to the same MOA officials who create the manual in the first place and there is no appeal process. Although the MOA says that the manual is created with input from the development community, at the last DCM meeting there was only one representative from the private sector while a full round table of MOA officials attended. At the least, the DCM needs a public process and should become ordinance like Title 21.

     So if you want to know why Anchorage had only 22 single family permits in July for a community of 300,000, those are some of the reasons why.