Hans Hits the Ground Running for Housing

Hans Nelson

Monday, May 5 was an important day for Hans Nelson. At exactly 8:15 a.m. he entered the Northwest Iñupiat Housing Authority building on Turf Street in Kotzebue.

It was his first day as the new Rural Housing Coordinator for the Alaska Association of Housing Authorities.

Nelson didn’t expect a welcome committee, and there was none.

“Not many people in the office due to coronavirus. It feels good to hit the ground running,” Nelson said. He knows he has his work cut out for him.

Wrestling with Overcrowding and Homelessness

Like many rural communities, Kotzebue wrestles with overcrowding and homelessness. Kotzebue is part of the NANA region. According to AHFC’s 2018 Housing Assessment, 37% of the occupied housing in the region is categorized as either “overcrowded” or “severely overcrowded” — which is 12 times the national average.

Colleen Dushkin, executive director for AAHA, spells out the expectations and challenges for Nelson’s role.

“Hans will play a key role in Kotzebue and the Northwest region by being a point of contact for a grassroots effort to address homelessness in the communities. One action item is to open an emergency shelter for homeless living in Kotzebue to mitigate the potential impact of COVID-19. Hans will be working to formalize the homelessness coalition and establishing a 501(c)3 nonprofit in addition to helping Northwest Inupiat Housing Authority to explore ways to reduce overcrowding in communities it serves,” Dushkin said.

Nelson doesn’t shy away from the challenges.

“There’s no question about it. We need tangible results on homelessness and overcrowding — and be on our way to end it. I’ll do my best to connect with people bringing them together. We have so many organizations working on the same thing but from different perspectives. We need to make sure we’re on the same page,” Nelson said. 

An Alaska Family Willing to Serve

Nelson was born and raised in Anchorage, but he spent several summers in Kobuk before moving there in 2001 to assist in caring for his grandmother.

He held several administrative positions both with the City of Kobuk and the Native Village of Kobuk before moving to Kotzebue in 2009. “I’ve always been community oriented. It’s something I’m really passionate about,” Nelson said.

Willingness to serve and provide for his community remains important to Nelson — so much so that he was appointed to serve on the Northwest Arctic Borough Planning Commission, and he currently sits on the City of Kotzebue Planning Commission.

Hans is married to Erica Nelson, who is assistant director and recruiter at Alaska Technical Center. Together they have six children — all daughters.