Sitka’s housing crunch hits tribal citizens hardest, study says

a housing complex
Baranof Island Housing Authority, which constructed this four-plex in the Kaasda He’en Shanaa’x, is hoping to solicit ideas and input from community members on how to expand affordable housing in Sitka. (Robert Woolsey/KCAW)

Tribal citizens in Sitka are being squeezed out of Sitka’s housing market, and some are leaving town, according to a new study commissioned by Baranof Island Housing Authority, with support from Sitka Tribe of Alaska. Now, they are hoping the data – and community input –  will guide them towards solutions.

Cliff Richter is the Executive Director of the housing authority. He said the last tribal housing needs assessment was conducted about five years ago.

“Our data was getting a little stale,” Richter said.

Sitka Tribe and the housing authority collected responses from over 300 Alaska Native or Indigenous households in Sitka and nearly 200 households of Sitka Tribe of Alaska tribal citizens outside of Sitka. The survey found that Native residents in Sitka are more likely to rent instead of own, live in older housing such as mobile homes, and rely on friends or family for shelter. The survey also found that tribal citizens are leaving Sitka at a higher rate than other residents.

Robin Sherman is the Communications Director for Sitka Tribe of Alaska.

“An astounding number of the people who responded said that they were really interested in living in Sitka, but lack of housing, you know, or affordable housing was a big barrier,” Sherman said.

Richter said the survey data has already influenced decision-making at the housing authority, which is now prioritizing higher-density housing and smaller lots in planning a new subdivision on Herb Didrickson Drive. They have other ideas on strategies to expand affordable housing, like weatherization and replacing mobile homes, but Richter said the next step is to involve the community in establishing priorities and solutions. While the survey focused on tribal housing needs, Richter said the issue – and the solutions – are community-wide.

“We’re seeing this as information that’s going to benefit the entire community,” he said.

You can read the full tribal housing needs assessment here.

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