KETCHIKAN - Any day's a good day the sun shines, especially in Ketchikan, Alaska whose 8,000 residents "enjoy" an average 153 inches of rain a year. Friday, July 14th, was a sunny day, a good day made even better day with the grand opening of seven new apartments on a hillside with a million-dollar view sure to persuade any residents the whole wide world was awaiting them just outside their front door.
The seven units - five two-bedroom and two one-bedroom units - were built by the Housing Authority of the Ketchikan Indian Community using, in part, funds from the State of Alaska and from HUD under the Native American Housing and Self-Determination Act. To live there, a family must have at least one Native American member, be residents of the Ketchikan Indian Community's service area and have an income at 80 percent or less of the area's median income or about $68,000 a year for a family of four.
The opening was a very big deal, instantly increasing the Authority's affordable housing stock 25 percent, from 28 to 35 units. There lots of smiles all around.
But "why," you ask, "does a small town like Ketchikan need subsidized housing? I took a cruise to Alaska a couple summers ago, and we stopped in Ketchikan. It was booming!"
Of course it was. Anytime 2,000 passengers from a cruise ship descend on its stores and restaurants a town like Ketchikan's going to "boom." A timber town until its pulp mill closed in 1997, most of its residents make their living and pay their bills thanks to the seasonal tourist trade.
"If there was any silver lining in the loss of our mill, it was the diversification of our economy," real estate agent Bill Bolling recently told KRBD-FM, noting that "2012, 2013, things seemed to change for us, so far as activity and the number of sales, and prices started rising again,". Today, he added, "there's a lot of demand and not as much supply."
The numbers tell a similar tale. The August, 2017 issue of Alaska Economic Trends from the Alaska Department of Labor reported that, Ketchikan enjoys a 9.9 percent rental vacancy rate, one of the highest in the state. In 2017, it said, "average rent decreased 1.1 percent, to $1,110" a month.
So, where's the need for affordable housing? Well, think about that $1,110 a month. Alaska's minimum wage is $9.75 per hour. If you're one of the folks who serves the coffee, leads the tours, sells the trinkets to those summertime tourists, chances are that's what you'll get paid. To pay that $1,110 average monthly rent, you'll need to work 114 hours - more than two-and-a-half weeks. Doesn't leve much of your paycheck for food or clothes or transportation or any other essentials, does it?
What's true in Ketchikan is true in cities big and small across America. HUD's most recent "worst-case housing needs" report to the Congress found that in 2015 some 8.3 million American families paid more than half their monthly income to rent, lived in substandard housing or both. What's true in American cities big and small across the country is true in Ketchikan - the demand for affordable housing far exceeds the supply.
With the grand opening, the Authority instantly increased its subsidized stock 25 percent to 35 units, thereby providing a lucky seven more families with an affordable place to call home. But that still leaves more than 90 families on the Authority's waiting list, hoping, maybe even praying they'll one day be lucky too.
Ketchikan Tribal Council President Irene Dundas told the Daily News t there's room - and desire - to build even more units. HUD stands read to help. One good partnership, after all, deserves another.
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