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Anchorage Prioritizes Federal Grants for Affordable Housing

By | October 24, 2013

It costs more than $1,000 to rent a one bedroom apartment in Anchorage according to the most recent rental survey by the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation.

That number has convinced the city to make affordable housing the main priority in its 2014 Housing and Development Plan.

That means money that used to go to social services agencies that serve the poor and homeless will be redirected to projects to help lower rental prices in the city.

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Two kinds of federal funds are distributed by Anchorage: Those that fund building projects and those that fund public service projects, mostly helping the poor.

Every year, the city writes a plan for how it’s going to spend that federal money. In 2014 there is just one priority: affordable housing.

In past years’ plans, planner James Boehm says the city would fund all kinds of projects.

Photo from the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation. Click for a link to the AHFC Facebook page.

Photo from the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation. Click for a link to the AHFC Facebook page.

“So we did projects like neighborhood parks,” Boehm said. “We gave money to Catholic Social Services for Claire House, Covenant House for their Shelter, Salvation Army for their shelter.”

The way things look now, Boehm says, such projects will not be funded this year or anytime soon.

“Well, right now our direction is programming most of our funding for rental housing development,” Boehm said. “We’ve changed complete direction.”

In 2013 the city got about $2.5 million in federal grant money.

In a survey the city conducted, residents ranked affordable housing right behind homelessness projects and those that help victims of domestic violence. The city made affordable housing the priority because access to housing can help reduce homelessness and make it easier for domestic violence victims to leave difficult situations.

Britteny Matero works on homelessness issues with the Department of Health and Human Services. She’s happy the municipality is finally responding to the need for affordable housing.

“It’s been obvious from the data that’s been collected and from the community and their responses to us that affordable housing is very, very important and that that’s the direction that we need to go,” Matero said.

But the new priority for the city will come at the expense of some social service providers. Catholic Social Services is set to receive $30,000 in public service grant money from the municipality to fund the overflow facility for Brother Francis Shelter this winter.

Susan Bomalaski, with Catholic Social Services says if public service funding is eliminated, they’ll have to stop some services.

“We’ll cut the overflow shelter to Brother Francis Shelter which currently operates out of Beans Café,” Bomalaski said. “If we don’t receive the funding we can’t take it from our regular donations.”

“We have too much to raise just to keep our core programs running.”

But Bomalaski says if the money is reallocated for supportive housing it might not be such a bad thing. She says it may give homeless people who can’t find appropriate, affordable housing a chance to get out of the shelter cycle.

“With more supported housing we could likely move people of Brother Francis Shelter and then we wouldn’t have to use the overflow and that would be a good situation,” Bomalaski said.

Officials with the Municipal Department of Health and Human Services say the funds would likely be used to build and operate supportive housing projects.

The Assembly will consider the Municipality’s 2014 Action Plan for how federal grant money will be used soon.

Specific projects will likely go before the body for approval in early 2014 and can be designated or chosen through an application process. Municipal officials say NeighborWorks Anchorage and RuralCap are likely choices for funding affordable rental developments.

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