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Navigating Housing Challenges in Prince William Sound: A Comprehensive Assessment Reveals Key Needs

Updated: Jan 31


The PWSEDD Housing Needs Assessment Report, funded by the Minnesota Housing Partnership and prepared by the McKinley Research Group, has revealed critical insights into the housing challenges facing Chenega, Cordova, Tatitlek, Valdez, and Whittier. Leveraging this valuable information, PWSEDD will continue to collaborate with the Minnesota Housing Partnership to develop targeted strategies to expand housing options and meet the growing needs of our communities. Using publicly available data, survey data, and key informant interviews, McKinley Research Group’s team defined the challenges facing each community and opportunities to address them. The assessments aim is to answer three critical questions: what is the current inventory and quality of housing in the community, what is residents' perceptions of housing and housing needs, and what types of housing is needed to fill the gap in the community.

 

The PWS Housing Needs Assessment Survey, opened in September 2023, collected data directly from residents on the specific challenges and opportunities of housing in each community. Paper surveys were distributed in Chenega, Cordova/Eyak, Tatitlek, and Whittier, and 271 responses were received.  It included questions about housing type, square footage, year built, number of bedrooms, and monthly rent or mortgage payment, as well as questions about satisfaction with current housing and features such as energy efficiency, suitability for children and seniors, and value for the price. Valdez data were collected through a telephone survey for a housing needs assessment requested by city staff in January 2020 (so still fairly recent). Through randomized telephone interviews with Valdez residents, data were collected on residents' satisfaction with current housing, perceptions of availability, quality, and affordability, senior housing needs, and priorities for city housing efforts.




 

Below is a summary of the findings from each community.

 

Chenega:

Housing challenges in Chenega include the aging and poor condition of existing housing, a lack of housing that meets community needs, and the impact on workforce needs. Many homes in Chenega were built prior to 1980, resulting in a general perception of poor condition. Residents and interviewees consistently express the need to upgrade or replace nearly all housing in the next 5-10 years, and to develop large single-family homes with 4-5 bedrooms that would allow multi-generational families to live together, assist older residents to age in place, and provide homeownership opportunities for younger families. In addition, the construction of new infrastructure (such as a new school building in Chenega) has been delayed due to the lack of workforce housing.

 

Additional large, single-family homes could serve as temporary workforce housing before being occupied by resident families. The construction of four additional large homes of this type could likely meet the village's need for workforce housing and long-term, quality housing for residents.

 

Cordova:

Cordova faces limited homeownership opportunities, a shortage of rental and multifamily housing, and a deteriorating housing stock. Many Cordova residents are unable to afford homeownership or find suitable housing options. There is a gap in both the rental and multi-family housing market. Residents who currently must live with family and seasonal workers are dissatisfied with their housing situation and interested in finding smaller rental options. Mold, heating issues, and plumbing problems are also common problems reported by residents in their current housing, especially in mobile homes.

 

Increasing Cordova's housing supply would greatly improve the current housing situation. There is sufficient need for the development of several 1-2 bedroom rental units, 2-4 bedroom single family homes, and senior housing. Many residents are cost-burdened by their housing expenses, indicating a need for subsidized real estate development to provide affordable housing options.

 

Tatitlek:

Housing challenges in Tatitlek include the high cost of construction for new housing and a lack of professional builders in the community. The existing housing stock in Tatitlek, which was primarily built in the 1970s and early 1980s, is deteriorating and not considered adequate for seniors to age in place safely.

 

Opportunities for improvement include new housing to replace older residences, with a focus on small-scale condos or apartments that are suitable for seniors aging in place. Tatitlek may benefit from the development of duplexes or triplexes to increase housing efficiency.

 

Valdez:

Valdez is challenged by poor housing quality, availability, affordability, and rental options. A significant portion of households in Valdez rate housing quality as poor or very poor, citing problems with maintenance, infrastructure, and overall condition. Housing availability is also rated poor by a majority of respondents, indicating a lack of housing options for residents, including in the rental market.

 

Addressing housing challenges in Valdez requires a comprehensive approach that includes land use, development, regulation, affordability, and community engagement. There are opportunities to annex or develop more land for housing in Valdez by using state land and making underutilized or vacant land available for multi-family housing, condos, and apartments. Increasing the inventory of multi-family housing, particularly 5 - 9 unit complexes, can help meet the demand for rental housing and provide more affordable options for residents. In addition, regulating short-term rentals, such as Airbnb, can help ensure that properties are not left vacant for extended periods of time and provide more available housing for permanent residents.

 

Whittier:

Whittier's housing challenges include limited land availability, aging housing stock, and lack of diverse housing options. The Alaska Railroad Corporation holds a master lease on most of the land in Whittier, making it difficult to develop new housing. Existing housing, such as the Begich Towers and Whittier Manor buildings, is perceived to be deteriorating and not meeting safety codes. Residents have expressed concerns about long-term safety and the need for new multi-family housing.

 

One potential opportunity for housing in Whittier is the Buckner Building. Despite environmental concerns with demolition and new construction, the Buckner Building is located on flat and buildable land, making it a possible site for a new high-rise apartment building. Alternatively, the construction of a new multi-family building with at least 200 units could accommodate the current population and provide a solution to Whittier's limited housing options.

 

Housing plays a pivotal role in all aspects of economic development. Adequate and affordable housing is fundamental for workforce stability, attracting and retaining talent, driving business growth, and enhancing quality of life. It supports tourism and the seasonal workforce, both integral to our communities, and drives the development of essential infrastructure and services. All of our communities are struggling to meet the housing needs of their residents. There are persistent themes of high construction costs, limited construction workers and buildable land, and aging housing stock across the Sound, and the rate at which new houses are being built and added to inventory is significantly behind community needs.

 

This report illuminated the details and depths of these challenges, and provided multifaceted solutions to begin addressing them. Tackling PWS's housing issues will require a comprehensive approach, incorporating regulations, financial assistance, infrastructure improvement, and stakeholder collaboration. The completion of this report is an important milestone in PWSEDD’s continued work with the Minnesota Housing Partnership, and will serve as a guide as we further develop strategies for increasing housing options, identify funding sources, and look for opportunities to combine development efforts across multiple communities. You can view the full report here:


20231205 MRG PWSEDD Housing Needs Assessment Report
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