Mandy Cole, executive director of AWARE, speaks to the crowd at the Greater Juneau Chamber of Commerce Thursday afternoon at the Moose Lodge alongside Amy Skilbred, executive director of the Juneau Community Foundation. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Mandy Cole, executive director of AWARE, speaks to the crowd at the Greater Juneau Chamber of Commerce Thursday afternoon at the Moose Lodge alongside Amy Skilbred, executive director of the Juneau Community Foundation. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Community leaders share new nonprofit housing council’s goals to address crisis

“This problem cannot be solved by the free market alone.”

The rising cost of living and lack of affordable housing in Juneau is forcing residents to pack up and move away or to the streets — something community leaders say shouldn’t be a forced reality for people in Juneau.

That growing problem is what prompted the establishment of the Juneau Nonprofit Housing Development Council last fall, a collaboration between multiple nonprofit organizations that advocate for the construction of housing options that are accessible and affordable for those who experience poverty in the Juneau community.

The council includes major players that push for more affordable housing development in Juneau like AWARE, Catholic Community Service, Gastineau Human Services, JAMHI Health and Wellness, St. Vincent de Paul, Juneau Housing First Collaborative, and Tlingit Haida Regional Housing Authority.

Mandy Cole, executive director of AWARE and a council member, spoke to the Greater Juneau Chamber of Commerce on Thursday alongside Amy Skilbred, executive director of the Juneau Community Foundation and another council member.

The pair discussed the work being done by the Juneau Nonprofit Housing Development Council, and what direction and steps they think the Juneau community needs to take to solve its lack of affordable housing, growing housing crisis and its growing population of people experiencing homelessness.

“It’s a circle of like-minded organizations that are dedicated to housing, but more than that it’s really a statement that says we need to do things differently if we want everyone to be able to live safely behind their own door,” Cole said about the decision to establish the council.

According to social services agencies, Juneau is Alaska’s most homeless city on a per-capita basis, with 1.5 times the rate of Anchorage and three times that of Fairbanks. Recently, a report by the Juneau School District showed a 59% increase in the number of students experiencing homelessness in the 2022-2023 school year compared to the year before.

Throughout the presentation, Cole and Skilbred made it clear that the need for more development of affordable housing in Juneau is at a critical level. Their solution? “Keep people who are housed in housing” and “provide housing for others who need it.”

Cole said a major issue happening in Juneau — and across the country — currently is the extreme costs of land, materials and construction, which means for private developers the idea of offering low-income housing is seldom on their radar as a priority.

“You have to find some way to influence that equation so that the end product is affordable to people who make very little money — that’s not the standard process for people who are private developers,” she said.

Cole argued that issue is what the Juneau Nonprofit Housing Development Council is trying to address and is working to find ways that they can influence that equation of cost — whether it be via grant funding, free or low-cost land, or financing — to provide housing for people who need it.

“This problem cannot be solved by the free market alone — really, we need to be able to control some piece of this to make it affordable to people who are low income,” she said.

Skilbred agreed and said it takes the community providing funding not just toward specific projects in Juneau, but allowing funding to be utilized in a multitude of ways that fit the needs of a volatile and quick pace housing market, and the different needs of people experiencing homelessness.

Though more work is necessary, Cole and Skilbred highlighted movement and developments already underway in Juneau thanks to community effort and support.

Recently, the City and Borough of Juneau approved its budget for the 2024 fiscal year starting in July, which includes $1 million in one-time funding to assist in the construction of an ​​additional 28 housing units to its existing Forget-Me-Not Manor facility in the Lemon Creek area.

The funding for the project was approved as a community request, originally by the Juneau Housing First Collaborative, a member of the Juneau Nonprofit Housing Development Council

The $1 million will be pulled from the city’s Affordable Housing Fund, instead of general funds like the majority of the request, and is only partial funding for the project, which is estimated to cost a total of $5.3 million.

The project is considered to be the third phase of the authority’s development of the Forget-Me-Not Manor facility, which since 2017 has opened up 64 units of permanent supportive housing and 58 emergency shelter spaces in Juneau.

• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at or (651)-528-1807.

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