The Alaska Commission on Aging, along with several state agencies, held a summit on senior housing Wednesday in Anchorage (12/12). Seniors from around the state and those who work with them came together to look for solutions to Alaska’s looming senior housing crisis at the Wilda Marston Theatre in the Loussac Library.
“There are no magic bullets. It takes all of us working together and finding the best way to provide services in the most efficient manor that we can.”
That’s Bill Streur, the Commissioner for the Department of Health and Social Services, addressing a room full of seniors and advocates, at the Wilda Marston Theater in the Loussac Library. They all came to the summit in Anchorage because they’re concerned about one thing: senior housing. Streur says several factors motivated the state to help coordinate the housing summit – and they all have to do with money.
“I think we’re at a perfect storm for the need for this summit. We need to figure out a way to provide the services that we provide at a lower cost, yet our senior population is growing at 5 times the rate it is in the lower 48.”
Streur says housing tops the list of concerns the state has in planning for its growing aging population. This week The Alaska Housing Finance Corporation (AHFC) announced $35 Million dollars in federal and state grants, the majority of which — will provide housing for seniors. Of the 199 units being provided by the grants, 94 are newly constructed senior housing and 55 are acquisition and rehab of existing senior units. But, Mark Romick, the Director of Planning & Program Development for Alaska Housing Finance Corporation says, that’s really just a drop in the bucket.
“It’s a step in the right direction. The overall need is several thousand units and we’re talking about 149 this year.”
And the demand for affordable senior housing is sure to grow. There are over 90,000 seniors statewide now — with the majority in Anchorage and Southcentral Alaska. Officials say Alaska’s senior population is projected to increase by about 6 percent each year for the next 20 years, as the bulk of the baby boomers hit retirement. The population over 85, those with special housing needs, is also growing very fast. Colleen Bickford is the HUD director for the Alaska field office in Anchorage. It used to be that you could get a single source of funding to build, operate and provide rental assistance for senior housing through HUD. But with dwindling federal dollars, she says, its more complicated.
“The reality is with the cost of land, the cost of energy, it takes other sources of money that have to be leveraged into the project. And it takes quite a bit of expertise in order to best organize those funding sources so that they don’t conflict with one another and so forth.”
Bickford says Alaskans have to let go of their ‘grant’ mentality and look to other sources of funding, like low interest loans. Steven Rouse develops senior housing in Alaska. He is the President and CEO of Rouse & Associates based in Homer and Kenai. He is also the Executive Director for the Kenai Housing Inititative and has developed projects throughout the state including in remote Alaska. He says as the funding sources shift and the pressure for senior housing increases, the development of senior housing in Alaska will rest on the state’s shoulders.
“All projects regardless of where they are, are not going to be driven solely by market in that rents will not cover the cost of the money you need to borrow to build it. So their has to be some sort of subsidy funding. And in rural Alaska it costs even more. So if it is a policy decision of the state to build senior housing in rural Alaska, the state needs to pony up.”
Mary Anne Borchert is with the Retirement Community of Fairbanks, a non-profit that is developing a market rate senior housing community in Fairbanks. She says she came all the way to Anchorage for the Senior Housing Summit, because she’s looking for ways to let state leaders know the importance of seniors.
“It’s very important to think abut the seniors in the state because there’s so many of us. The seniors are staying in the state and contribute a lot, in terms of volunteering, in terms of retirement income coming in that is spent in the community. So these seniors are very important people to keep around.”
Something she hopes state lawmakers will keep in mind as they return to Juneau and consider how to address the lack of affordable housing available for Alaska’s growing senior population. Organizers of the Alaska Senior Housing Summit say they would like to have additional summits on other senior issues in the coming year.