Anchorage may be a ‘big wild life’ place to live for now, but it is fast becoming a multi-family community with more building permits for multi-unit dwellings than single family homes.  The mid-year building statistics are a stark reminder that our single family homes are becoming increasingly expensive, rare and old.  Single family permits have actually declined from 182 homes in 2013 to 149 while duplex units have increased from 44 to 116 and multi-family units have increased from 66 to 158 units.  What little residential building that is occurring in Anchorage is becoming more up close and personal with duplexes and four-plexes the common denominator. Your neighbor is no longer across a sixty-foot wide backyard, but just an air space away from your living room wall.

     Our big wild life is being threatened by a lack of affordable single family homes for our working middle class.  When, and not if, mortgage interest rates increase, the affordability factor will make our housing crisis even more acute. The only good news in the building reports is the continued increase in residential alterations or permitted ‘remodels’ which totaled $9.6 million and had 652 applications.  Our aging housing stock is in need of both cosmetic and functional repairs.  Neighborhoods like Old Turnagain in mid-town and Turnagain View in south Anchorage are maintaining values and popularity due to the conscientious efforts of homeowners to keep their homes and yards in prime condition.

     The average-priced home that sold in MLS these past six months had a value of $359,000, a 6% increase over the 2013 mid-year report.  Interestingly enough, the average value of a sold condo was stagnant at $199,000 for both years.  Condo sales did increase 11% from 465 to 514, along with a 30% decrease in market time. Buyers are being forced into condos due to lack of affordable single family homes despite the fact that the most successful condo developments are historically in niche markets created for buyers who desire a specific location and lifestyle.  Anchorage families with two young children, a full-size pick-up truck and a snow machine, who want to enjoy our ‘big wild life’ don’t want to live in a two-bedroom, or even a three-bedroom condo, where they have to BBQ in their driveway for lack of backyard space.

    Anchorage housing is going in the wrong direction.  There are 5,800 acres of residentially zoned land in the Anchorage bowl.  However, getting affordable access to it is the bottle neck. The MOA mandated expensive cost for installation of roads, water and sewer makes it prohibitive for development within the context of building the average priced single family home. The upcoming implementation in 2015 of the new Title 21 residential design standards will add another 2-3% to the cost of the average new construction home.  The MOA needs to reactivate its willingness to financially participate in the extension of infrastructure which will generate the opportunity for more affordable family housing. Developers should not be asked to foot the entire bill for a collector road if they are not allowed to create a lot with driveway access to the road.  The MOA also needs to bring its design criteria for infrastructure in line with state and federal road and lighting standards. Significant amendments for the new Title 21 need to be created, allowing for more flexibility in residential design standards and land development, particularly for those areas in need of redevelopment. Without these changes, Anchorage is going to lose its ‘big wild life’ self-designation and become the ‘multi’ town of the north.