Recent articles and headlines in the local newspaper have prompted lots of public discussion about the lack of housing, and affordable housing in particular,  in Anchorage.  Finally, everyone has  come to understand the consequences of  the past several years of underbuilding.  Since 2010 when the development and planning community first began to realize that Anchorage might face a future housing shortage, little has been done to facilitate more new housing and redevelopment.  From the year 2010, there have only been 1,110 single family homes built; 266 duplexes (counting both sides) and 560 multi-family housing units for a total of 1,936 new dwelling units.  Anyone shopping to buy a new home or rent an apartment can testify that these low numbers only add to the growing agony and frustration of Anchorage residents looking for a place to live.  These numbers are a far cry from the 6,000 building permits in 1984 which was more than the city of Phoenix that year, although no one is suggesting we return to the overbuilding which contributed to the real estate recession of the late 1980s.  However, we are now faced with a far different scenario with residential units for sale continuing to be in the low 300s every week, multiple offers on homes and only days on the market for properties in decent condition.

     Over the past four years, Anchorage’s population has continued its modest growth and the need for housing has not kept up.   People are attracted to Anchorage and Alaska for its unique lifestyle, i.e. neighborhood moose, mountain vistas, the opportunity to bike and walk with nature just moments or steps away from their backdoor. And that’s where the ‘vision thing’ comes in.  Anchorage residents by and large don’t like going home on an elevator and walking down an interior  corridor to get to their front door.  They don’t want to live above a bookstore or restaurant.  They want a place for their pick-up truck and snow machine.  According to the AK Division of Motor Vehicles, there are 16,878 snow machines registered in Anchorage.  There are 67,932 pick-up trucks.  Buyers want a garage and a backyard, no matter how small, even 20 feet by 20 feet which is about the size of a yard you get with a townhouse style condo.  But, at least it’s a place for the dog to pee and  a BBQ in the summer.    Unfortunately, Anchorage visionaries have a different idea.  They want to see a more urban multi-family community develop.  That might be okay for the Alaskan snowbird or the North Slope worker who flies in and out every two weeks, but it doesn’t work well for the demographics of young, mixed generational families who want to raise their children in a low density community.

     The few developers and builders who have tried low rise larger multi-family developments have all gone bankrupt or nearly so because building up is more expensive than building horizontal.  Those who have survived have switched to townhouse row housing that provides some semblance of community and backyard space.  In 2010, Anchorage had 5,000 acres of residential land for development. If each of the 1,936 housing units that have been built since then took up a fifth of an acre, and that’s being very generous, we have not used even a tenth of the available land for development.  So what’s the problem?  Infrastructure.  Plain and simple.  In the late 1980s the Municipality stopped reimbursing residential developers for the extension of roads, water and sewer.  Developers must now extend utilities and roads to their property even if that means they can’t have a driveway and lot accessing the road.  At worst, this financial burden makes most residential development financially unfeasible or at best creates higher priced lots so that buyers will soon have to pay $500,000 for a new single family home.

     Whether or not this was a deliberate public strategy and policy to force more ‘urban, multi-use, higher density redevelopment’ in Anchorage, it has contributed greatly to the current housing shortage.  The bottom line is Anchorage needs a small lot, fee simple, single family ordinance so that Anchorage residents have a place to park their snow machines and pick-up trucks without having to drive to the Valley.   And, the MOA should lift its ban on utility and road reimbursements on an area-wide basis.