A plane flies in front of a downtown Juneau neighborhood in early May. City and Borough of Juneau Assembly Finance Committee members Wednesday discussed the availability of housing in Juneau. So far, Assembly members said, a tax abatement meant to spur development downtown has not been successful. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire File)

A plane flies in front of a downtown Juneau neighborhood in early May. City and Borough of Juneau Assembly Finance Committee members Wednesday discussed the availability of housing in Juneau. So far, Assembly members said, a tax abatement meant to spur development downtown has not been successful. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire File)

Housing issues dominate city committee agenda

The hot topic takes the hot seat.

The topic of housing loomed large over the City and Borough of Juneau’s Assembly Finance Committee meeting Wednesday night. The topics of the night aimed at tackling issues surrounding the current lack of housing and affordable housing supply in Juneau. Though no decisions were made, the committee officials inched toward policy.

The first discussion of the night focused on potentially expanding a housing tax abatement to all of Juneau. This would be an extension of the already-in-place downtown abatement zone ordinance passed last March, which aimed to encourage downtown housing development in a short period of time. The current downtown ordinance allows eligible new housing developments of four or more units inside the zone to only need to pay property taxes on the mandatory school contribution of 2.65 mills instead of the 10.66 mills. However, since passing, no developers have taken advantage of it.

But, Planning Manager Scott Ciambordescribed the expansion of the abatement zone to include the entire borough as “a key solution to increase housing supply.” He said it would be a way for the city to address the current land scarcity in downtown and across Juneau and would be an economically beneficial way to use the land available.

But, committee members were hesitant.

Rorie Watt, the city manager, expressed concern that the tax abatement wouldn’t ignite much action if expanded boroughwide, as the downtown abatement zone has yet to entice a single developer into action after more than a year.

“It’s unlikely that we’re going to get a market response that is overwhelming,” Watt said.

The motion was passed to move forward with the expansion despite skepticism from Watt and other committee members. Ciambor reassured expanding boroughwide is a necessary step to encourage developers to begin projects across Juneau where more land is available and pave a way for an increase in housing supply.

The committee also took some time to hear an update on the affordable housing fund and review changes for its second round. The fund is currently at $6.1 million and the committee reviewed changes for the projects funded and the application process for potential developers who wish to apply for funding. At the end of the discussion, the committee approved the process for developers to apply for the fund.

The last big item on the agenda discussed a proposed ordinance that would require short-term renters to register their units with the CBJ. The ordinance’s purpose is to collect data on the number of short-term rentals in the area and then use the data to assess if CBJ will need to put any additional regulations in place.

Assembly member Wade Bryson presented the ordinance and noted the assembly should wait to take action on it until after the Ironman competition. Others disagreed.

“What are we waiting for? There’s real desperation out there,” said Assembly member Michelle Bonnet Hale.

Bryson said the competition would skew the actual amount of people who rent as a business compared to casual “one-off” renting that he said the Ironman will likely bring. The committee decided it would continue to work on the ordinance but did not conclude if the timeline would be before or after the Ironman.

• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at clarise.larson@juneauempire.com or (651)-528-1807. Follow her on Twitter at @clariselarson.

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