Utah housing expert who cut chronic homelessness 90% pitches Alaska solutions

Gov. Bill Walker says he’d “love for Alaska to be the first state without homelessness.” With a little inspiration from the state of Utah, some are hopeful that could become reality.

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In 10 years, the number of people who are chronically homeless in Utah dropped from 1,964 people to 178. Lloyd Pendleton, director of Utah’s Homeless Task Force, was a guest at the meeting of Alaska Coalition on Housing and Homelessness annual conference. He said the solution was relatively simple — Utah used the Housing First model.

If funding is the problem, Pendleton suggested that Alaska’s Permanent Fund dividends could be put to a higher use, which Corrections Commissioner Rob Taylor, and the audience, found amusing.

“You’re not talking about our checks are you?” Taylor asked.

“Yes he is!” yelled a woman in the audience.

“I guess that’s what you call them,” Pendleton replied. “So, you pay no sales tax, you pay no tax. The rest of us down in the Lower 48 do it without issue. I’m just saying, you have an opportunity to rethink your whole structure.”

Short of implementing new taxes or doing away with PFD checks, Pendleton noted that Alaska is still in a good spot to make progress on a housing initiative. He noted that state leadership and the coalition are actively working toward a solution.

In his address to the conference Wednesday, Walker said a recent visit to the Cold Climate Housing Research Center in Fairbanks opened his eyes to new technologies that can help residents mitigate expensive winter heating bills.

“It’s not any one particular region. It’s statewide. We need affordable housing. In some locations in our great state in the winter, multiple families move together to live in one house so they’re heating one house rather than four houses. (It’s) quite a challenge,” Walker said. “There’s no place else in the United States that does that, that people live in those conditions.”

The state will hold a housing summit in January, which Walker hopes will “identify what the state can do to help local communities address their housing needs.”

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Jennifer Canfield is a reporter at KTOO in Juneau.