Alaska faces unique housing challenges, as feds send millions of dollars to help, top HUD official says

Two women appear to walk on a dirt pathway toward a weathered, gray building.
Housing and Urban Development Deputy Secretary Adrianne Todman, left, during a visit to Napakiak in mid-August 2022. (HUD)

The deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development was in Alaska recently.

While she was here, Adrianne Todman announced more than $220 million in funding for affordable housing and development to benefit Alaska Native and American Indian communities, as well as more than $800,000 to help house Native American military veterans at risk of or experiencing homelessness.

But Todman wasn’t just here to talk money. Her trip was filled with meetings and tours in Anchorage, Wasilla and the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta — including the villages of Napakiak and Oscarville — to learn about Alaska’s housing challenges and to see the work the department has been funding already.

Listen:

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The following transcript has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Adrianne Todman: So the Indian Housing Block Grant provides funds to the tribal councils in Alaska to build housing and to preserve the housing that they have. And I’m very proud to say that that formula, which had been flat funded for so many years, that under the Biden administration, we were able to bump it up by 22%. And so the good folks in Alaska were able to receive $115 million just this year alone. In addition, we have a fair amount of staff that are dedicated to tribal leaders and housing entities in the state of Alaska. I believe the HUD office there has the largest, if not one of the largest, compliments of staff dedicated solely to tribal housing.

Casey Grove: Oh, interesting, yeah. So you mentioned some of the challenges that folks told you about off the road system. Tell me more about that. What did they tell you? How was it different from one community to the next?

AT: Certainly. You know, not too long ago, I, myself, built housing. And I was just amazed by some of the challenges that communities in Bethel, particularly those who are off the road system, really have to deal with. I mean, the concept of only having materials arrive by barge twice a year, which is an example of one of the challenges that was shared with me, is astonishing. The fact that there’s a shortened construction season also presents its own challenges, and through all of this, it means that, you know, the time delays and the way that materials get there only contributes to the additional costs of building housing in Alaska. And so it was truly a learning experience for me, and certainly one that the other HUD members who had went with me on the trip, we’re all sort of wrapping our brain around and trying to find ways to be a resource for the families and for the individuals who are there.

CG: Gotcha, yeah. When you were traveling out off the road system, in some of those communities, we’ve heard that there’s crowding, that you have, you know, multi-generational families living in the same house, and that it’s just generally crowded in some places. Did you get a chance to see that? And could you comment on that?

AT: Yeah, you know, I was able to witness some of the overcrowding experience that’s happening. I had the opportunity to walk through both of the villages that I visited. And it’s just a reminder of how much more work we have to do. Overcrowding is usually symbolic with the lack of housing affordability, and I certainly witnessed that during my trip there. And like I said, it only inspired me and the team to just be ever more laser-focused on ways that we can build more capacity where it’s needed, with the housing leaders in Alaska to fight for more resources for Indian Country, not just in Alaska, but across the country, and really do everything we can to lift up some of the best practices that we’re seeing happening in Alaska. And so we can sort of cross-pollinate some of those ideas and be a resource, but also bring ideas, perhaps some from the Lower 48, to our housing leaders in Alaska. Sad to say, housing affordability and housing supply is not unique to Alaska, and there’s lots of really creative things that are being done. You know, we, the president, just a couple of months ago, released a housing supply action plan that actually has in mind some of the things that I saw and witnessed when I was there in Alaska. We’ve seen this, we have a plan to try to make improvements, and we’re going to continue to fight for resources for the families in Alaska.

Casey Grove is the host of Alaska News Nightly and a general assignment reporter at Alaska Public Media with an emphasis on crime and courts.

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