Chasing a Curve

[Photo: Connolly Square Senior Center]
Connolly Square Senior Center

ANCHORAGE - If the best time to fix a hole in the roof is when the sun is shining, the best time to address the prospect of an affordable housing crisis for the elderly probably is before it's leading you around by the nose.

Look at the data for Anchorage and, unfortunately, some might say there's time to tarry. The August issue of Alaska Economic Trends from the Alaska Department of Labor says that, "with a median age of 33.8 years, Alaska is the third-youngest state in the nation." Only Utah and Texas are younger. In 2010, just 7.7 percent of Alaskans were 65 and older. That's the smallest proportion of any of the 50 states. "No need to rush," some might conclude.

But look a bit closer at the numbers. "In the past 10 years," the Department estimates, "our 65-plus population has grown faster than any other state's." And it's not slowing. In 2010 there were almost 55,000 people 65 and older in Alaska. By 2030, that number will almost triple. In 2010 there were 28,207 residents 65 and over in the Anchorage and Mat-Su boroughs. By 2030, there are expected to be 53,384 more.

Fortunately, "procrastination" is not part of the business plan at NeighborWorks Anchorage, a non-profit housing agency in the state's largest city. Organizationally, it's already has a pretty full plate. Owning and operating nine affordable housing complexes for families. Running a repair and rehabilitation program that helps maintain the "health, safety and value" of their homes. Providing free housing counseling to potential homebuyers and homeowners at risk of foreclosure. Serving as a driving force in the city's annual Paint the Town campaign which, every June, helps homeowners give their houses a fresh coat of paint in neighborhoods across the city. And that's just the short list.

Fortunately, NeighborWorks Anchorage isn't afraid of new challenges. Challenges like chasing and, hopefully, getting ahead of a demand curve for elderly housing that one day soon will take a very sharp turn north.

NeighborWorks Anchorage took a major step in this direction two years ago when it was one of just 102 non-profits nationwide to win a Section 202, supportive housing for the very-low income elderly grants from HUD. The funds - as well as funds from the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation's Neighborhood Stabilization Program under the Recovery Act - provided both capital funds to build affordable units, but also to cover the costs of insuring that eligible residents don't have to pay more than 30 percent of their income to rent.

Even with Alaska's notoriously short building season, a bit more than two years of getting word it had won the grant and just nine months after breaking ground, in September 2012, it opened the doors to Connelly Square in the Airport Heights neighborhood. Named in honor of NeighborWorks Anchorage's founding director, it willl provide 20, accessible, one-bedroom units to people 62 or older who with annual incomes no higher than 50 percent of area median. Maybe in a sign of things to come, the complex received more than two applications for every available unit.

"This was a wonderful day," said NeighborWorks executive director Debe Mahoney of the opening. "With the rising demand for affordable, elderly housing, we only hope we'll have the resources needed to enjoy many more days like this one."


Content Archived: February 26, 2014