ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A senior Biden administration official learned how housing and homeless issues are different in Alaska during a visit this week to the nation’s largest state.
U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge finished a two-day stop with a discussion with Alaska Republican U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, local leaders and Alaska Native officials in Anchorage, Alaska Public Media reported.
She said at a news conference after the event that she appreciated everyone’s willingness to share about their challenges.
“It’s always the squeaky wheel, so today I got the squeaky wheel in a very loud way,” Fudge said.
Sullivan highlighted how Alaska is different from the rest of the country. Most of the state’s rural Alaska Native villages are off the state’s limited road system, and they have drastically higher costs of living.
“Most of America, as you go further out from the big cities, a lot of times housing and the cost of living actually decrease,” he said. “In Alaska, it’s actually the flip side.”
Anchorage leaders also raised concerns about what they called an unfair agency formula for distributing funding to address homelessness in urban Anchorage.
Christopher Constant, the chair of the Anchorage Assembly, told her Anchorage and Houston both have about 3,200 homeless people. However, he said Houston receives more than $40 million in federal support, while Anchorage gets about $4 million.
“That’s $15,000 per individual in Houston that they’re receiving to support the people unhoused in their community, where we receive $1,000,” Constant said.
Fudge said she heard a “good argument” in adjusting the funding formula to be more equitable.
Affordable housing is another issue for urban Alaska. The pandemic slowed construction of new homes in Anchorage, which has led to a tighter housing market and higher prices.
The Anchorage Assembly is considering simplifying residential zoning rules to encourage the construction of smaller homes within the municipality.
Fudge said her agency is also investigating easing zoning and planning regulations nationwide to add more homes. It’s also set aside billions of dollars to help communities enact new ideas to increase housing.
“We’re saying to communities: If you really want to make a difference, and you really want to make some changes, we’re willing to help you fund these processes to fund the data collection, to fund the new ideas that we think can be helpful,” Fudge said.
Constant said the assembly has authorized Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson to apply for the federal funding.
Fudge on Wednesday toured tribal lands during a visit to Kenai.
Afterward she announced $128 million for affordable housing investments for tribal communities. About $45 million was awarded to seven tribes in the Pacific Northwest, including $7.5 million each for the Tlingit Haida Regional Housing Authority in southeast Alaska and the Kenaitze-Salamatof tribal housing entity on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula.