Affordable housing is an issue across most of Alaska, and Anchorage is no exception. The city ranks in the top-20 most expensive housing markets in the nation.
The Anchorage Economic Development Corporation sees it as one of the biggest barriers to improving the city’s fiscal future, and the group wants to start addressing the problem by focusing on homelessness.
Last week, AEDC applied for the IBM Smarter Cities Challenge grant. If awarded, IBM will send a handful of analysts, along with some sizeable computing resources, to Anchorage in order to begin crunching the numbers on how much money homelessness costs the city. After determining the price-tag, they will offer the most cost-effective solutions.
“Homelessness, if we don’t address the situation, becomes more and more of a drag on our economy in terms of attracting that new investment and that new blood that we need in [the] professional workforce,” said AEDC President and CEO Bill Popp.
Popp sees the high cost of homes hurting two very different groups. There are the younger, more mobile professionals deciding whether or not to settle in Anchorage. And there are lower-income individuals and families that are more likely to suffer homelessness than to simply move elsewhere. The shortage of affordable housing units is the common issue hitting both groups, and costing the city resources.
“If those pieces aren’t in place,” Popp explained, “then your successful investment of dollars in the community becomes less.”
Should they win the grant, AEDC will work with other Anchorage organizations to collect the numbers showing the real story of how housing prices affect Anchorage residents. The focus on homelessness as the starting point for a larger conversation came from local community groups, 147 of which have formally partnered with AEDC on past projects.
“All the organizations that we have talked to, they have homelessness as an important issue,” said Arcahana Mishra, Director of AEDC’s Live.Work.Play. initiative.
Mishra is hoping the grant will provide an opportunity to put together a data set showing how much the city spends just managing its homeless residents through a patchwork of social and emergency services, compared to alternative housing options.
Anchorage is competing with other cities from across the globe, and will not know for several months whether it has won the Smarter Cities grant.