Alaska housing report highlights overcrowding, energy challenges

By June 25, 2014 Stories Comments
U.S. Census data shows household overcrowding in some regions of Alaska is 10-12 times the national average. (Chart courtesy Alaska Housing Finance Corp.)

U.S. Census data shows household overcrowding in some regions of Alaska is 10-12 times the national average. (Chart courtesy Alaska Housing Finance Corp.)

The Alaska Housing Finance Corp. on Tuesday released a report that highlights “severe shortcomings” in the state’s housing stock when it comes to things like cost, energy efficiency and overcrowding.

The 1,400 page Alaska Housing Assessment authored by the Cold Climate Housing Research Center in Fairbanks updates previous versions of the report, released every three to five years.

Alaska Housing Finance Corp. CEO Bryan Butcher says the report is an overview of the state’s housing supply for 2014, written for a broad audience.

“Anywhere from a policymaker wanting to determine potentially issues they wanted to tackle,” Butcher says. “Down to just the average Alaskan trying to see what some of the challenges are in the communities in which they live.”

The report says 75,000 households in Alaska meet the federal government’s definition of cost-burdened. That means they’re spending more than 30 percent of their total income on rent or mortgage, and other housing costs.

“They’re paying money that would normally be going to clothing, to food, to other aspects of their lives,” says Butcher.

About 15,000 homes in the state are overcrowded or severely overcrowded, according to the assessment. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development defines overcrowding as more than one person living in each room of a housing unit. About 6 percent of Alaska households meet the definition, nearly twice the national average. Butcher says overcrowding varies throughout the state, but is more prevalent in rural areas. For instance, in Western Alaska’s Bethel and Wade Hampton census areas and the Northwest Arctic Borough, nearly 40 percent of homes are overcrowded.

“Because of the cost of housing, we’re seeing a lot of people, a lot of families living in fairly small square footage, which is not just physically, but mentally and psychologically unhealthy when you’ve got a large number of people living in a relatively small home,” Butcher says.

New to the report this year is data collected from energy audits on 75,000 homes in Alaska − approximately 30 percent of households statewide. The audits were done as part of two AHFC home energy improvement programs.

Dustin Madden is a policy researcher with the Cold Climate Housing Research Center, who authored part of the report. He says certified auditors look at things like the type and quantity of insulation in a home, as well as appliances, heating and hot water systems. Madden says they enter all the information into AHFC’s Home Energy Rating software and come up with an energy rating for each house.

“It’s pretty detailed data,” Madden says.

The report says nearly 20,000 homes statewide get the lowest energy rating, one star on a six-star scale. Madden says the average home in Alaska uses twice the energy of a home in a cold-climate area of the Lower 48.

“You get out into more rural places where you can have 7 or $8 a gallon for heating that adds up really quickly,” says Madden. “So we saw in the report, some areas were spending on average 6, 7, $8,000 on energy annually.”

The average annual energy cost for homes in Alaska is twice the cost of cold-climate regions in the Lower 48. (Chart courtesy Alaska Housing Finance Corp.)

The average annual energy cost for homes in Alaska is twice the cost of cold-climate regions in the Lower 48. (Chart courtesy Alaska Housing Finance Corp.)

Since 2008, Butcher says AHFC’s home energy programs have helped improve almost 40,000 homes across the state. He says making Alaska’s housing stock more energy efficient is a multi-year process.

“We’ve been fortunate that the governor and the legislature have recognized the importance of this, and recognized the challenge of it, that we’ve continued to receive appropriations,” Butcher says. “In fact, going into this next fiscal year, we’ve received $42.5 million for these two energy programs.”

AHFC’s energy programs are income-based. The low-income weatherization program is for residents who earn less than the median income for a given community, while the home energy rebate program is for people who make more than the median income.

Besides data from energy audits, the Alaska Housing Assessment used information from the U.S. Census Bureau and HUD.

The entire report is available on AHFC’s website. You also can read sections of the report looking at specific census areas or Native corporation regions.