Rural overcrowding: A different view of homelessness

Mayor Blanche Okbaok-Garnie of Teller taking AHFC’s Vice Chair Alan Wilson and board member Olen Harris

Mayor Blanche Okbaok-Garnie of Teller taking AHFC’s Vice Chair Alan Wilson and board member Olen Harris on a tour of the community of 236 people.

This year, our board of directors held their August meeting in Nome. For one meeting each year, the board meets in a community outside of Anchorage in order to experience the challenges and opportunities in other communities in Alaska that we serve.

Board members also visited the village of Teller, toured Alaska Housing's public housing properties in Nome and hosted well-attended community gatherings. In discussions with community members, it was apparent that the general lack of safe and affordable housing in rural communities is a very real issue.

During the tour of Teller, board members and staff were able to see first-hand that the obstacles to constructing safe, sanitary and affordable housing is rooted in the remoteness of the communities combined with a lack of basic infrastructure.

Community members in Teller eager to meet with  AHFC.

Community members in Teller eager to meet with  AHFC.

In many rural regions in Alaska the high cost of construction labor and the added cost of transporting construction materials create a situation where local residents aren’t able to afford to build new houses. The responsibility of constructing new housing units is mainly taken up by the regional housing authorities, augmented by AHFC funds, who still have to overcome those hurdles.

This lack of housing leads to families, relatives and close friends sharing a housing unit. Even in rural areas where housing might be available, high costs associated with fuel, rent and other housing expenses can lead extended families to share a housing unit to spread the financial burden of supporting a home.

Rena Greene talks to board member Fred E. Parady (left) and AHFC's CFO Mike Strand and Public Housing Director Cathy Stone.

Rena Greene is managing AHFC's 33 public housing units in Nome. Here she talks to board member Fred E. Parady (left) and AHFC's CFO Mike Strand and Public Housing Director Cathy Stone.

Our 2018 Alaska Housing Assessment conducted by Cold Climate Housing Research Center highlights the stark numbers of overcrowding. Thirty-seven percent of homes in the Bering Straits region are overcrowded according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s definition of 1.5 person per room. Savoonga’s overcrowding is far more severe with 61 percent of the houses listed as overcrowded.

Overcrowding in rural communities is another facet of homelessness, with family and friends choosing to share a home rather than be exposed to severe weather. Alaska Housing board and staff touring communities affected by the lack of housing really drives home our role in putting resources towards finding solutions to address homelessness in all of Alaska.

Bryan Butcher
AHFC CEO/Executive Director and Chair, Alaska Council on the Homeless