Senior Housing Office, 30 Years Later

"The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected." — Robert Frost

A pearl is traditionally associated with a 30th Anniversary. Signifying purity, honesty and wisdom, it seems appropriate for an office that has worked to provide adequate, accessible, secure, and affordable housing on behalf of Alaska’s Senior Citizens for three decades.

Three Decades Ago

As a new decade approached 30 years ago, Alaska was in the midst of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill cleanup; voters opted to recriminalize marijuana; and, the Tongass National Forest grew by 1 million acres, thanks to Congress. On the world stage, the Berlin Wall fell; Iraq invaded Kuwait; and a British engineer and his colleagues proposed something called the World Wide Web.

Meanwhile in Juneau

During the 16th Alaska Legislature, State Senator Jim Duncan had been paying attention to Alaska’s explosive growth of Senior Citizens since 1988. On June 17th of that year, Duncan sponsored Senate Concurrent Resolution 50 requiring the Older Alaskans Commission to update their inventory of senior housing needs.

In February 1989, they issued their draft, ‘Senior Housing Report’ detailing as a first priority, establishment of a Senior Housing Office to organize a cohesive, comprehensive state response to senior housing issues, as well as a loan fund to act as a catalyst to spur development of senior housing by non-profits, developers and the like. Assisting the Older Alaskan’s Commission, the Juneau Commission on Aging conducted their own survey and results revealed 140 individuals over 65 were dissatisfied with their current housing arrangement.

Senior Housing Office Created

In response, Senator Duncan introduced Senate Bill 150, creating the Senior Housing Office within the Department of Community & Regional Affairs (DCRA) and Senate Bill 487 allowing the use of $10M in AHFC assets as security to leverage $30M in bond financing. By the time Senator Duncan’s efforts concluded, 13 co-sponsors in the Senate had signed on in support. Outside support came in from a wide audience including: USDA Rural Development, AARP Alaska, the Juneau Commission on Aging and many others, including private senior citizens.

On June 14, 1990, Governor Steve Cowper signed SB150 into Law, with an effective date of September 12, 1990. SB487 became Law two weeks after SB150. In 1992, the Senior Housing Office transferred to AHFC as part of the merger with DCRA.

"The State needs to keep the experience and expertise of its Senior Citizens, and with its present population of 20,000, a 60% increase from 1980, the State needs to ensure adequate, appropriate housing is available for its Seniors."

— Jim Duncan, State Senator, 1990

Explosive Growth of Senior Population

In 1990, Alaska’s overall population stood at 550,000 and the state’s median age was 29. Approximately 6% of the state’s population was over age 60 at the time. Of those, about 1,200 Alaskans were over the age of 85. Some 30 years later, the state population now stands at 731,000; the median age has grown to 36 and the 60 and over population has more than tripled from 1990 to represent 19% of the overall population, representing a near 300% growth rate over the period.

Alaska’s 85 and over population has grown five times what it was 30 years earlier now comprising over 6,700 individuals; a 436% increase from three decades earlier. Since 2007, Alaska has been recognized as the state with the fastest per- capita growth of seniors 65 and over of any state in the Union.

“I was privileged to be the first employee of the Alaska Senior Housing Office. In the early to mid-80s, senior housing development was a new and emerging housing market because of the needs and demands of an aging population. Alaskan seniors and elders realized this fact and their strong and dedicated advocacy resulted in the creation of Senior Housing Office in 1990.

"Their continued and effective advocacy resulted in significant support from the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation, the Legislature, Governor’s Office and local governments. During my tenure, hundreds of independent and assisted living units were built. Thirty years later, it is my hope that this advocacy continues well into the future. The demand is getting larger than ever."

— Steven P. Ashman, AHFC Senior Housing Office 1990-2001

Housing and Programs Around Alaska

Over the last 30 years, AHFC has developed well over a thousand senior housing units across Alaska, investing millions of dollars to meet the mandates of the Senior Housing Office. Additionally, AHFC provides over 600 units of senior/disabled public housing units across eight Alaskan communities – and provides many seniors affordable housing opportunities through the Housing Choice Voucher program. Specialized programs, such as the Senior Access Program has allowed seniors to remain at home, where they want to be, through universal design upgrades and accessibility improvements.

Loan programs have not only made homeownership possible for seniors, but also for assisted living operators who provide critical care to seniors in need. AHFC’s energy programs have made homes more comfortable and affordable for senior citizens, many of whom are on fixed incomes. Aging & Disability Resource Centers began their service to Alaskans in 2004 under the leadership of the Senior Housing Office and five Independent Living Centers across the state.

Built on Strong Partnerships

The achievements of the Senior Housing Office over the past three decades would not have been possible without strong partnerships maintained over the years with the Alaska Commission on Aging, Senior Centers, and many other agencies and individuals, working across all corners of The Last Frontier. Whether working together to establish a new State Plan for Aging Services, a Roadmap for Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias, Senior Housing Fairs, or sponsoring housing events specific to the senior industry, this steadfast collaboration has proven crucial in not only understanding, but working collaboratively to meet the growing and evolving needs of Alaska’s senior population.

"We appreciate the knowledge and support that AHFC has provided to the Alaska Commission on Aging for decades. You have made our Commission better and bettered the lives of hundreds of Older Alaskans."

— Gordon Glaser, Chair, Alaska Commission on Aging, 2020

Each year, hundreds of senior citizens and their family members reach out to the Senior Housing Office on a wide array of aging issues. This direct contact with the Senior Housing Office has proved to be a trusted and reliable resource for senior citizens as they make decisions and navigate their Golden Years. It remains one of the most enjoyable, fulfilling and humbling responsibilities of the Office.

Contributed by Jim McCall
AHFC Senior Housing Office
2001 — Present