Interspersed amongst the many colorful pages of Mayor Ethan Berkowitz’s Transition Committee Report are several proposals and public comments that would enhance the accessibility to more housing in Anchorage, from homeless ‘housing first’ solutions, to creating a system for better coordination between the developer, AWWU, CEA, ML&P and the MOA. Perhaps, the most important and most difficult recommendation to implement is:  “Change the culture in permitting to ‘How can I help you?’ from risk adverse strict adherence to code”. In the words of the transition report, “making zoning and permitting more flexible and entrepreneurial”. A hard challenge for any new mayor, but Anchorage’s housing shortage and high cost has now become a top-of-mind issue for all community leaders. Too many times, builders and land developers are told ‘what can’t be done’ due to the strict interpretation of code without being offered affordable and alternative solutions.

     Besides, a change in culture, there are several specific steps that could significantly improve our local housing market which now has an average sales price of $380,000+, out of reach for many local Anchorage home buyers. Only 13 percent of For Sale MLS listings fall in the range of $350,000 to $399,900. Here are a few suggestions from the Mayor’s transition report that would help our housing crisis. Some are simple and can be implemented immediately. Others will take time. All could be implemented during Mayor Berkowitz’s first term.

     Digital plan reviews for civil engineering submittals would save rolls of paper and time. Currently, engineers must submit 30 sets of plans of road designs to be individually reviewed by various departments. Establish and adhere to a deadline for responses to plan submittals. Do not allow staff to submit late comments which delays the approval, which delays the construction of roads, water and sewer, which delays the ultimate home building process, which ultimate increases the cost of the home—because time is money and the interest clock is ticking.

     Home buyers see the final product–the number of bedrooms, the length of the garage, whether the interior wall color is gray or light beige and the height of the cabinets. What they don’t see is the process and cost to extend the pigtail (the extension of the water and sewer) to the foundation which has increased from $1,200 to over $3,500 in five years due to a required AWWU change in material, the amount of gravel in the trench and road bed, and the cost of the haul. One recommendation is to consider the State of Alaska collector road standards for undeveloped areas. Currently, Anchorage residents drive on three different types of road —state standards, MOA standards and private development standards. Needless to say, the private development standard is the most strict and expensive. Any road grade variance, even a 1% difference, can take 4 to 6 weeks for approval. Home builders have learned how to heat and tent foundations, and are able to build all winter. Building roads and installing water and sewer pipes has a limited calendar, from May until October 10, when the asphalt plants close. MOA delays can mean loss of a season, resulting in higher lot costs and thus higher home costs to the home buying public.

     Changing the culture to ‘How Can I Help You?’ would create more opportunity for new home construction and at an affordable price. We are a community that is short on new housing and the vast majority of our housing stock, both for rent and sale, is over 30 years old, requiring not only cosmetic remodeling, but health and safety upgrades as well. The only solution to our housing shortage is to build more housing. That can only happen with a change in culture and attitude. Let’s hope the new administration can meet the housing challenge.