The results are in on Anchorage Housing

Story by Julia Moore

A recent survey by the Anchorage Economic Development Corporation (AEDC) has found some big changes in wants/needs from residents of Anchorage. But, in the big picture, what does it mean for the city and how can its results help you? Here are some major takeaways from Moira Gallagher, director of AEDC’s Live. Work. Play. initiative.
Housing: Where do we want it? Downtown

Did you know…

That despite the recession, housing prices have not decreased. This is because, Moira suggests, the Anchorage area did not see a drastic decrease in population since the start of the recession. Since people haven't moved, there's still a limited supply of homes on the market. Many of these houses are $500,000+, 4-5 bedroom homes, instead of the 2-3 bedroom homes that the younger and older populations are looking for.

For more, read the full report online at aedcweb.com/project/
anchorage-housing-survey-report-2018.

“We asked residents to select their top three neighborhoods, and we listed all the neighborhoods in Anchorage, plus Chugiak, Eagle River, Mat-Su and Girdwood,” says Moira. “58 percent of residents in the 2018 survey selected downtown or South edition, which is the neighborhood right next to downtown, as one of their top three. That was the largest segment of the population.” There are two surprising things about this result. First, it wasn’t just young people who wanted to live downtown; it was also Anchorage’s growing senior population.

“Seniors over 55 by-and-large wanted to live in smaller-scale housing. They want to downsize,” Moira explains. “And they also want to live in areas that are walkable, so they don’t have to drive. They can walk to the grocery store, the bank or wherever.”

The second surprise about this result is that downtown Anchorage isn’t actually a neighborhood. There’s no housing downtown. Survey respondents would like to see housing options downtown, though, because of the convenience – they want to be able to walk to work, meet up with friends at a coffee shop, stroll to their bank or the local park.

“Respondents also overwhelmingly stated that their main priority when finding somewhere to live is a safe neighborhood,” Moira continues, “which is a change from the 2014 survey.” This may seem to contradict the survey result that the majority of respondents would like to live downtown, since it’s not always the safest place in Anchorage, but putting housing downtown actually increases the level of safety in the area. Moira explains: “There’s kind of a chicken and egg thing, because more people living downtown actually makes your downtown safer: you have more people on the streets; you have more eyes out; it’s less likely to be a little bit dodgy around bar-break time because there’s just more activity.”

Incentivizing housing downtown

If putting housing downtown is so desired by young and old alike, why aren’t there any housing options yet? “A big reason why housing hasn’t happened downtown is because of the infrastructure costs,” says Moira. “Most of the infrastructure downtown is – no joke – a hundred years old.” She really means a hundred years, too – the original 1915 pipes are still underground in Anchorage.

There are a few ways to work with this reality. If Anchorage modifies policies to make it easier for mixed-use zoning for buildings downtown, there could be housing above restaurants or coffee shops, says Moira. On the flip side, there could be businesses within residential neighborhoods, giving residents the luxury of being able to walk to the café or yoga studio down the road. Another option is offering tax incentives to developers who build downtown, an area where they know they’ll have to take on extra costs to modernize infrastructure. If you want to see these changes, voice your support by calling your local representatives.

Changing zoning policies, and offering tax incentives while the state recovers from a recession, may seem ludicrous, but doing so could boost Anchorage’s long-term economic growth. “We need to be a city that’s competitive at attracting talent,” says Moira. “Businesses don’t just invest in cities randomly, and the cities that are winning this competition right now are Spokane, Boise – they’re not necessarily huge cities, but they’re attracting a really talented, robust workforce. And they’re doing it through quality-of-life initiatives, like better housing downtown, better arts and culture, trails and walkability.” Anchorage already has arts and culture, trails and walkability downtown – all it’s missing is the option for residents to live in the midst of it.