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PUBLISHED: 4:33 PM on Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Making a plan for affordable housing

Five apartments in 18 months. That's not the best track record, but it's been my reality since moving to Juneau in September 2005. There are many factors that contributed to so many moves.

The big issues for me were simply finding a place to live that met my needs and being able to afford it.

I know I'm not alone. The City and Borough of Juneau is currently drafting an update to the comprehensive plan, which will be in place until 2020.

This comprehensive plan is the guiding document for all of CBJ's activities.

Affordable housing is a large part of that document. It's easy to let this issue slide if you're young and single, but the future can't be put on hold. If affordable housing doesn't affect you now, it will catch up to you.

"For many of us younger professionals in Juneau, the critical shortage of housing has been a major challenge in both living here and finding prospects for settling down," said Daniel Ungier, an affordable housing advocate at the United Way of Southeast Alaska. "Many of us either pay too much rent, are constantly seeking roommates or balk at the idea of ever affording a home here."

The average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Juneau is $1,053, according to the Juneau Homeless Coalition.

This means a minimum wage earner would need to work 110 hours a week in order to afford this rent. Households are considered overburdened if more than 30 percent of income goes toward the cost of shelter. According to census information from 2000, 37 percent of renters paid more than 30 percent of their income for shelter. This can make saving for a down payment for a home very difficult.

Last year the condo I was renting was put on the market for sale. I seriously considered buying it as I already lived there.

I looked at my options, but with being relatively new to the area and keeping up with my rent, I didn't have enough saved for a down payment.

So I hopped apartments a few more times before finding a roommate to cut my rent to put back some money.

In the same 2000 census, 17 percent of owner households paid more than 30 percent of their income toward shelter. There are new homes on the market, but the average price can be daunting.

In December 2006 the average home on the market in Juneau sold for $321,276, according to the Alaska Housing and Finance Corporation.

The household income needed to purchase an average home - and pay an affordable mortgage - was $96,440.

More than 60 percent of Juneau households, or 7,000 households, earn below this income, according to the 2000 census. This means that under current market prices, the average home is not affordable for two-thirds of Juneau households.

Affordable housing affects all levels of our community regardless of age, family status and income. However it is difficult to attract young professionals to move to or stay in Juneau with the mounting cost of housing.

Why stay when the same job pays the same or more money elsewhere and the cost of living is less? I know young professionals who have faced that question and moved on.

Of course there are several aspects of Juneau that keep people here besides money, but the bottom line is many of the people we hope to attract - professionals whose services and expertise we need - can't afford to live in Juneau.

As part of the comprehensive plan, CBJ is increasing densities throughout Juneau to allow for more housing. As densities go up, costs go down. It seems as if condos, attached homes and smaller homes are going to be ever more common choices for a first-time homebuyer. The average condo in December 2006 sold for $176,797, which is nearly half the price of a single family home.

There is no simple solution for the affordable housing dilemma, but if residents of all ages work together in mapping out a plan, we'll all benefit from it. There are several proposals on the table that would create more affordable housing in Juneau.

The CBJ community development department has and is continuing to hold meetings to let neighborhoods know what's happening and what changes they might expect.

"As you might expect, most attendees are middle-aged homeowners who have already found a way to live here. What we see much less often are younger community residents who both need and can stand behind the changes proposed," Ungier said.

"The young-professional perspective is critical to this issue. It's up to us to prioritize housing for our community."

CBJ's comprehensive plan can be found online at www.juneau.org/cddftp/CompPlanUpdate.php. Remaining neighborhood meetings will be held at the following locations:

• March 21, from 7-9 p.m. at Dzantik"I Heeni Middle School Library

• Wednesday, March 28, from 7-9 p.m. at Juneau Public Library

• Wednesday, April 4, from 7-9 p.m. at Douglas Public Library

• Wednesday, April 14, from 7-9 p.m. at Mendenhall Valley Public Library

• Saturday, April 21, from noon-3 p.m. at Juneau Public Library

Gragert is editor at Capital City Weekly. Send e-mail to her at amanda.gragert@capweek.com.


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