This photo shows downtown Juneau in late October. A recent study looked at the causes of worsening affordability and availability of housing in Juneau and found that demographic change in Juneau’s population is among the largest factors. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

This photo shows downtown Juneau in late October. A recent study looked at the causes of worsening affordability and availability of housing in Juneau and found that demographic change in Juneau’s population is among the largest factors. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Study suggests demographic change as largest factor in Juneau’s housing shortage

Short-term rentals contribute to shortage, but are not the root cause

The recent rise in short-term rentals may be a newer factor in Juneau housing crisis, but old — and aging — challenges are also a significant driver, according to a recent study.

On Wednesday night at the City and Borough of Juneau Finance Committee meeting, the Juneau Economic Development Council presented research findings from its housing stock and short-term rentals study. The study looked at the causes of Juneau’s worsening affordability and availability of housing and found that the greatest impact on Juneau’s housing crisis is the demographic change in Juneau’s population as the biggest driving force causing the Juneau housing shortage.

The study looked at the impact of short-term rentals in the area, and though the data showed short-term rental conversions have caused between 300 and 600 homes in Juneau to no longer be available for long-term rentals, its impact on the housing shortage is only one of several factors causing the shortage.

“I think the take-home message is that for us to have a healthy community and healthy economy, we need to figure out how to get more housing,” said Rorie Watt, CBJ city manager. “Yes, we are losing housing to short-term rentals, but if our housing economy was stable, we should be able to accommodate that — short-term rentals are not the main or only source of our problems.”

In the past 10 years, Juneau has seen an increase of nearly 1,000 more residents yet far fewer dwelling units per adult in Juneau compared to 12 years ago, according to the study.

The study pointed to Juneau’s aging population as potentially another factor leading to an increased demand for housing, noting the number of people aged 65 and older living alone has more than doubled from 2015 to 2020.

Assembly member Carole Triem said the data further instilled in her that the Assembly needs to continue to go “pedal to the metal” with creating new housing in the borough.

“We have to keep going as fast and as hard on things that we can do to help fix the crisis,” Triem said.

She said it’s no secret the lack of housing is a major issue in Juneau, but said the data further pointed out to her how important it is for the Assembly to continue to find solutions to create more housing in the area as its impact on Juneau extends into all areas, not just the housing market.

“I think one of the most important takeaways is our lack of housing is impacting our economy and people who would otherwise be moving here aren’t moving here because they can’t find housing,” she said. “It’s just going to create a snowball effect.”

According to the study, the lack of housing is leaving jobs in Juneau unfilled and in turn prevents economic development in Juneau.

Currently, Juneau School District has 75 vacancies and across six of Juneau’s largest employers, there are an average of 21 open positions, for a total of 127 open jobs, according to the study.

“This impacts everybody, even if you already have a home in Juneau,” she said. she said. “The lack of housing is just going to affect our economy negatively no matter what — it doesn’t matter who you are, you’re going to feel the impact of it.”

Triem said the recent uptick of short-term rentals in Juneau is something the Assembly is interested in examining further, but said there haven’t been any talks within the Assembly about limiting the amount of properties being converted in the city at this time. She pointed to an ordinance the Assembly passed in early August, which appropriated $20,000 to go toward the effort of collecting data on short-term rental units in Juneau, as a step the Assembly has made to begin to address the impacts of short rentals.

“Nobody has said the words ‘we should limit them’ so we’re not there yet,” she said.

Currently, the city holds no policy that requires short-term rentals, like Airbnb, to register with the city, but Triem said data from the survey will serve as an starting point for the city to determine whether additional regulations should be implemented.

“We understand housing is an important topic right now and we’re continuing to do research and try to find solutions,” said Garret Schoenberger, the chair of JEDC’s member board.

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

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