Anchorage Braces For F-16 Transfer

Maj. Joseph "Cos" Coslett, the Public Affairs Director at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, stands in front of his on-base military housing. Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA - Anchorage

The Air Force is moving forward with plans to relocate its F-16 Squadron from Eielson Air Force Base in Fairbanks to Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson in Anchorage, despite opposition from Alaska’s Congressional delegation. Nothing is written in stone yet, but the move could bring an estimated 2,000 new residents to Alaska’s largest city over the next few of years. Anchorage officials are considering how the city will absorb the influx. The main concern is housing.

It’s typical military family housing, with 2-4 bedrooms. There are rows and rows of the houses in the neighborhoods clustered around training grounds and a giant runway at Joint Base Elemdorf Richardson on the East side of Anchorage.

“You have the family room here and we’ve decided to make it into our exercise room. Here you have the kitchen, kind of an open bar arrangement here. And then going into the next room, it’s a longer room, so we’ve made it into our living room/office.”

That’s Major Joseph “Cos” Coslett, the Public Affairs Director for Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson touring me around his on-base 4-bedroom house. Military families are used to moving Coslett says. They often like ‘on-base’ housing. But when they can’t find it they usually look off base, for one thing.

“Typical 3-bedroom house, where you’ll have the master bedroom and two smaller bedrooms,” Coslett said.

Coslett says, if the F-16 transfer goes through, that’s what a lot of military families will be looking for in Anchorage. The military estimates the move will save roughly $227 million. The Air Force says at least 700 military and civilian personnel plus their families would move to Anchorage with the squadron by 2015.  There is on-base housing at JBER, but the vacancy rate is only three percent.

The vacancy rate is also low off base. And that’s something city leaders are thinking about.

“Where do you put a couple thousand people?,” Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan said. “The military has a big responsibility ahead of them if they’re going to transfer down that many people with the F-16 group. They’re going to have to work really hard to make sure that there is housing.”

As far as buying goes, there’s just not that much available. Mary Cox is a broker with Remax. She’s an expert on single family properties in Anchorage and Eagle River.

“If I look at the inventory available at the end of May last year, there were 1,015 properties. And this year, there’s 793. And so there’s less inventory but the amount of sales is about the same as last year, so the buyers do have less to choose from,” Cox said.

And Cox says there are just about 60 houses on the market right now in the more affordable range between 225-thousand and 250-thousand.  That means the F-16 transfer could spur a small building boom in Anchorage. City planners say most of the vacant biddable land in the Anchorage Bowl is scattered and the city is running out of room for single family homes.  Karen Iverson is a senior planner with the Municipality. She says according to a recent housing study, the one place there is room to grow is in the Chugiak/Eagle River area.

“In the housing study we looked at Chugiak Eagle River as well and found that if we expand infrastructure into some of the large land holdings we will have enough land capacity for the projected demand and then some,” Iverson said.

Andre Spinelli is the owner of a home building company in Anchorage. Spinelli says in the big scheme of things, the F-16 transfer isn’t a lot of people, maybe 20-30 percent of our projected population growth for the year. But Spinelli says since his company has been preparing for the projected population increases, they’re poised to supply housing for military personnel should the F-16 transfer go through.

“I’m currently building in about 3 locations in Eagle River. The single family houses we’re building in a subdivision called powder ridge that Eklutna developed and those single family homes, they’re in about the 350-400,000 range,” Spinelli said.

And Spinelli says his company is about to break ground on a development of townhouses in downtown Eagle river and another of duplex-style town-homes in East Anchorage — all in the $250,000 price range. However until the transfer is official, and people start laying down down payments, he and other builders are waiting.

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Daysha Eaton is a contributor with the Alaska Public Radio Network.

Daysha Eaton holds a B.A. from Evergreen State College, and a M.A. from the University of Southern California. Daysha got her start in radio at Seattle public radio stations, KPLU and KUOW. Before coming to KBBI, she was the News Director at KYUK in Bethel. She has also worked as the Southcentral Reporter for KSKA in Anchorage.

Daysha's work has appeared on NPR's "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered", PRI's "The World" and "National Native News". She's happy to take assignments, and to get news tips, which are best sent via email.

Daysha became a journalist because she believes in the power of storytelling. Stories connect us and they help us make sense of our world. They shed light on injustice and they comfort us in troubled times. She got into public broadcasting because it seems to fulfill the intention of the 4th Estate and to most effectively apply the freedom of the press granted to us through the Constitution. She feels that public radio has a special way of moving people emotionally through sound, taking them to remote places, introducing them to people they would not otherwise meet and compelling them to think about issues they might ordinarily overlook.

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