Scott Ciambor ran into a problem when looking for a rental property before moving to Juneau 12 years ago that will sound familiar to many.
No matter how he changed his criteria or whom he talked to, real estate agents simply had no available rental properties to show him.
“We had a very common experience,” Ciambor said. “Everyone we talked to said they didn’t have any listings to show us. Housing is tight here. It’s very similar to an experience I had in the Bay Area during the Tech Boom.”
Ciambor, who moved to Juneau after his wife received a job offer, is now chief housing officer for the City and Borough of Juneau and Board Chair of the Alaska Coalition on Housing and Homelessness, delivered remarks as part of the first Southeast Housing Summit, which began Wednesday morning at the Westmark Baranof.
The summit is sponsored by Tlingit and Haida Regional Housing Authority and Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska among others and is geared toward generating discussion about housing and homelessness problems and solutions in Southeast Alaska. It is hoped to become an annual event.
“I think we are all here because we all agree housing is probably the No. 1 concern in every community,” said Tlingit & Haida President Chalyee Éesh Richard Peterson, who welcomed attendees to the summit.
Ciambor and Irene Gallion, housing and homelessness services coordinator for CBJ, split time during one of the morning’s first presentations and outlined some of the housing challenges Juneau faces and things that are happening that could improve the situation.
Ciambor mentioned a pilot program from 2016 that provided a $6,000 grant for single-family homeowners to add an apartment unit to their residence and said it was a success that could perhaps be built upon in the future. The program provided additional housing and had an unintended impact.
“Not only does the community get a unit, but you have economic activity,” Ciambor said.
In 2018, the Assembly set aside $480,000 over five years to continue the Homeowner Accessory Apartment Incentive Grant Program to produce as many as 96 new units, and Ciambor said it remains a popular program.
The CBJ also started the Juneau Affordable Housing Fund in 2010 that provides funding for projects. There is currently $477,00o available through the fund, according to the CBJ website.
“It really is money to do a bunch of different things,” Ciambor said. “Capital costs for projects, capacity building for nonprofit partners, supportive services for folks who are working with special needs populations and operating expense for housing developments.”
There are also some changes the Assembly is considering, Ciambor said, that would raise the cap on grants and loans available to developers to $50,000 per unit and stipulate that for-profit developers must reserve 20 percent of units for tenants with incomes 80 percent or less than the adjusted median income for at least 10 years or the lifetime of the loan.
“This is good timing because in 2017, the voters recommended $2 million in sales tax go into this fund,” Ciambor said.
Gallion said another proposal that could have a positive impact on homelessness in Juneau is Tlingit & Haida’s proposed reentry housing, which Peterson discussed.
“Many of our citizens come from the villages, get released from prison and they join the homeless population,” Peterson said. “We’re trying to become very active in that.”
Gallion said there is a local focus on a continuum of care that would be applicable across all communities from Kake to Juneau to Los Angeles, and she outlined some of the local resources that are available in Juneau.
She said emergency housing resources to get people off the streets include 40 beds at the Glory Hall shelter and 32 beds with Aiding Women in Abuse and Rape Emergencies (AWARE) for survivors of domestic violence.
“In the winter time, you’re probably familiar with Juneau’s Cold Weather Emergency Shelter,” Gallion said. “We have the stats here from November to January — 108 people — had to stay five nights.”
Data is not in for February, but Gallion said the shelter was open every night last month, so those numbers are expected to rise.
“After emergency sheltering, the next step is to go to transitional housing, which is generally time limited,” Gallion said.
St. Vincent de Paul has 26 transitional housing units; AWARE, 11; Juneau Youth Services, five and Gastineau Human Services has 30 beds primarily for homeless people, Gallion said.
She said the Juneau Housing First Collaborative Forget-Me-Not Manor has so far been a successful housing resource for people who are considered chronically homeless.
Residents are encouraged to be self-sufficient but are offered assistance with things such as making and keeping appointments
“When you think about the continued care for homelessness services, think about that continuum of care, think about that structure and understand that things are very, very related,” Gallion said. “It’s like a JENGA tower. We can take out one block, and we can take out two, but what happens when you remove the third? What does that do to the stability of the whole structure. That’s where we need to — especially with the state budget being where it is — kind of look at systemically how all these parts are fitting together.”
As a state and nation
Ciambor said affordable housing’s national profile is as high as he’s ever seen it, and presidential candidates are talking about the issue, which is promising.
“There is a sense across the nation that high rents and lack of affordable housing is finally starting to come up as a significant issue,” Ciambor said.
He also said while there were initially worries the Trump administration would slash the budget for Housing and Urban Development, HUD has actually received slightly more funding in each of the past two years.
However, President Donald Trump’s most recently proposed budget undoes some of that via a proposed cut of about 16 percent to the HUD budget.
“Much of that is in public housing,” Ciambor said.
At the state level, Ciambor said things aren’t as encouraging. Alaska is one of three states that does not have a state housing trust fund; the state’s structure means there are not county or regional resources.
“We do have some good programs, but there needs to be more work on consolidation, so there is more work going forward,” Ciambor said. “We need more funding for housing. Municipalities need to put more funding forward for the programs, but that goes for the state too.”
“I think all of us in this room, people who care about housing need to do a better job of being involved in state housing dialogue,” he added.
• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.