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Giving hope to the homeless

The issue of homelessness has been all over the news lately. It’s not surprising. We do have a problem and homelessness doesn’t take a vacation. Think about this for a moment – on any given day 30 percent of the homeless population are children. It’s just one really good reason for never letting up on efforts to find solutions to address homelessness.

AHFC plays a role in that solution by distributing state funds to a wide variety of service providers around the state and we also chair Alaska’s Council on the Homeless with an ultimate goal of realizing Alaska’s Plan to End Long Term Homelessness.

The Council brings together Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority; Alaska Departments of Education, Public Safety, Corrections, and Health and Social Services, and six public members from the homeless provider community, rural housing authorities, local government and real estate industry. It functions as a public policy forum for recommendations on use of state and federal resources to address homelessness.

It’s encouraging to see increased focus on homelessness:

  • The Statewide Homeless Housing Office was created in January as an office within AHFC. The role of the Office is to serve as a single point of contact for nonprofit and supportive housing providers regarding funding, technical and counseling assistance, data collection, best practice sharing, as well as connect those who are homeless with referrals to our community partners when appropriate.
  • There has been movement toward new ways of meeting housing challenges in Anchorage, notably a public-private partnership announced in April in Mayor Berkowitz’s office with Cook Inlet Housing Authority, Weidner Apartment Homes, Rasmuson Foundation and others.
  • Just last month, Governor Bill Walker signed an administrative order at AHFC strengthening Alaska’s Council on the Homeless. The Council is better positioned to coordinate services and resources across state agencies with expertise added from the Alaska Department of Workforce and Labor Development, the Alaska Federation of Natives and the Alaska Coalition on Housing and Homelessness

We still have a long way to go before we can declare that we have put a big dent in homelessness but we’re moving in that direction.

Giving up is not an option.

Bryan Butcher
AHFC CEO/Executive Director and Chair, Alaska Council on the Homeless

Legislature includes AHFC in its budget; cumulative dividend tops $2 billion

AHFC asks the governor and legislature for permission through the operating budget bill in the legislature to spend federal dollars that the corporation receives to support public housing programs. Permission must also be granted before spending corporate receipts, which are monies earned by AHFC through its business activities. AHFC’s operations consist of a variety of program activities supporting its mission to provide Alaskans access to safe, quality, affordable housing.

Under a formula agreed to by legislators and AHFC’s board and memorialized in statute, AHFC pays an annual dividend of 75 percent of its adjusted change in net assets. The dividend in 2018 was just shy of $30 million, bringing the cumulative total to the State of Alaska to $2 billion.

“That’s good news and a testament to our board’s response to a variety of state and federal economic challenges throughout the years,” said Bryan Butcher, AHFC’s CEO/executive director, referencing the Great Recession that bankrupted many homeowners in the Lower 48.

The dividend has traditionally first been used to pay debt service on bonds approved by the legislature like those issued to build University of Alaska student housing. Remaining dollars are often spent on capital projects identified by AHFC’s board as important to the corporation’s mission. Not only AHFC’s board but also the legislature and governor must approve spending on these projects even though funds used are generated through AHFC’s lending and investments proceeds.

The 2018 legislative session wrapped up at the end of May with a combination of dividends and other state funds in the approved capital budget that supports new or renovated housing for:

  • Victims of domestic violence and sexual assault (Empowering Choice Housing);
  • Teachers, village public safety officers and health professionals;
  • Senior housing, a partnership with Rasmuson Foundation;
  • Affordable rentals through HOME, and supplemental housing programs that leverages federal funds received under Native American Housing & Self-Determination Act (NAHASDA);
  • Life and safety, and maintenance improvements for tenants living in public housing; and
  • Clients eligible for energy efficiency improvements.

The mental health budget included funds for community providers who work to reduce and eliminate homelessness.

Butcher concluded, “elected officials and their staff spend a significant amount of time each year understanding the needs of Alaska’s most vulnerable and how AHFC programs can provide a critical safety net. Safe, secure housing is fundamental to families regardless of where they are in life. We appreciate all of the time that our policymakers invest in understanding the issues and how corporate functions are a worthwhile investment.”

Gov. Walker makes revisions to the Alaska Council on the Homeless

Governor Walker visited AHFC and signed Administrative Order No. 294 in a session before the Alaska Council on the Homeless on May 15.

The signing refines focus of the Council’s duties on services and resources across agencies with a goal of realizing Alaska’s Plan to End Long Term Homelessness, and expands participation by adding another commissioner and representatives from Alaska Federation of Natives and Alaska Coalition on Housing and Homelessness..

The Alaska Council on the Homeless was established in 2004 by Gov. Frank H. Murkowski. Long-standing council members include AHFC as Chair, Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, Alaska State Departments of Education, Public Safety, Corrections and Health and Social Services and six public members from the homeless provider community, rural housing authorities, local government and real estate.

See Alaska’s Plan to End Long Term Homelessness and the progress the Council has made since its formation in 2004.

Spotlight on the Board: Meet AHFC’s newest member, Olen Harris

Executive Director of North Pacific Rim Housing Authority, Olen Harris has held the position for the past 20 years. North Pacific Rim Housing Authority is the regional housing authority for the Chugach Region serving Seward, Valdez, Cordova, Chenega, Tatitlek, Port Graham and Nanwalek.

Harris also serves on the board for the Association of Alaska Housing Authorities and the board of AMERIND Risk Management, the national self-insurance risk pool for Indian Housing.

AHFC’s Communications Manager Soren Johansson posed a few questions to Harris:

Q: You have spent a couple of decades dealing with housing issues. What made you choose that particular professional path?
A: I started my career in housing working in finance at Bristol Bay Housing Authority and then moved to North Pacific Rim Housing Authority. Working in finance, you get to see aspects of all of the activities of an organization and what makes their programs work effectively. I was offered the opportunity to serve as executive director of NPRHA in 1997 and was excited by the challenges involved in the position and the impact our organization could have for families and communities we serve. These challenges and opportunities have been a great fit for my personal and professional goals.

Q: Tell us about the work that you do as executive director for Northwest Pacific Rim Housing Authority.
A: I oversee all operations. We are a small agency with a dedicated team of employees providing housing and related services in the Chugach region. NPRHA’s primary mission is affordable housing but we act as a development authority for our smaller communities and work with them on their entire range of housing, facility and infrastructure needs.

Q: You bring a lot of valuable experience to AHFC’s board. Aside from that, are there other strengths in your DNA that will benefit the board and Alaskans?
A: I believe I will bring a thoughtful approach to problem solving and be able to provide some good insights and ideas on solutions to the many issues encountered with providing safe, affordable, housing to Alaskans.

Q: As a board member, you deal with the entire business of AHFC. Is there one area (issue) of special interest to you?
A: I am interested in all of the areas that AHFC is involved. Most of my work has been with low-income-rural populations but my interest is in working on solutions to housing challenges for all Alaskans. One area especially interesting is how to expand mortgage lending and private capital in rural areas. These areas are very underserved by private markets for many reasons and overcoming barriers is an important part of the sustainability of rural Alaska.

Q: What current projects or programs at AHFC do you think are going to have the biggest impact in the next year and/or in the next 10 years?
A: I believe the programs that AHFC offers that help to bridge the gap between what the private market can provide and what is needed in Alaska will have the biggest impact, the dollar volume of the program is not as important as what the program enables private Alaskans and partner organizations to accomplish.

Q: What have you learned during your career that would be helpful for others to know?
A: One of the biggest lessons that I have learned is that engagement of the community and governance in a community are a key to any project or program being successful, with very limited exceptions.

Q: Any other thoughts or comments to share?
A: I would like to thank Governor Walker for selecting me for the position and I am looking forward to working with the Board and staff at AHFC.

Why and how to apply for a GOAL grant

Special purpose funding for supportive housing in Alaska is available through AHFC’s Greater Opportunities for Affordable Living program.

Competitive funding is administered annually, generally beginning in late May to early June, with pre-application registration that follows in mid-July.

A special purpose round includes $7 million to be awarded competitively for projects that serve Alaskans with barriers to safe and stable housing. The funding includes a combination of grants, zero interest loans, tax credits and rental assistance available to respondents who acquire, rehabilitate, construct or otherwise expand housing opportunities for Alaskans who are hard to serve and have intensive support service delivery needs.

Projects may include development or expansion of supported housing, operations or residential services for housing in rural communities that are not already served with AHFC’s Housing Choice Vouchers.

Applicants must register by June 22, 2018. Complete applications for the special purpose round are due October 5, 2018. Details are available in the Notice of Funding Availability.

More information about GOAL, including application materials, is available on AHFC’s website.

Breaking ground on teacher and tribal housing in rural Alaska

New, affordable housing in the Village of Kasaan broke ground using $373,000 awarded to the community through AHFC’s Teacher, Health Professional, and Public Safety Housing grant in May 2018.

A damaged trailer will be replaced with a duplex that is intended to house teachers and provide low-income housing for tribal members.

Contributions from Rasmuson Foundation, along with funds from AHFC, help communities across the state with development of housing designed to produce outcomes that combat turnover among positions that are vital to public health and safety, including teachers.

AHFC’s grants information, including important deadlines is available here.

A very happy birthday; AHFC turns 47

Governor Bill Egan in 1971 sponsored House Bill 167 that created Alaska Housing Finance Corporation.

AHFC’s work has expanded from those early days to providing affordable loans, administering public housing programs, energy efficiency and weatherization programs, senior housing programs and professional development.

“We know that our ability to support safe, quality and affordable housing for Alaskans is directly connected to the people who live in our homes and throughout our neighborhoods and communities,” says Bryan Butcher, AHFC CEO/executive director.

The Quinto family shares their perspective about the importance of AHFC’s mission and the gateway it provides to a stable foundation for successes in life.

“We are proud to be part of the Last Frontier and look forward to serving our neighbors and providing Alaskans access to safe, quality, affordable housing for another 47 years and beyond,” Butcher said.

Link between affordable housing and economic mobility; national report consistent with outcomes at AHFC

Living in stable, affordable housing leads to three major outcomes for residents: greater economic mobility, improved educational performance among children and generally higher quality neighborhoods, according to a recent study from the Terner Center for Housing Innovations at UC Berkley. Terner Center reports:

  • Almost 60 percent of working-age residents were employed and the vast majority of those unemployed were either in school, a stay-at-home parent, retired or with a disability.
  • Among college-aged residents, nearly 60 percent were enrolled in college and more than half were enrolled in a four-year university.
  • The majority of respondents attributed the high education rates and their children's success to housing stability.
  • Neighborhood characteristics were not as important as other factors to residents when making the decision to live in affordable housing; 80 percent of respondents said affordability and unit size were the most important factors; however, residents were strongly attached to their current homes and were averse to moving despite neighborhood or community shortcomings.

There are parallels with AHFC’s affordable housing programs:

  • Between 2015-2017, part-time employment increased 50 percent, and full-time employment increased 17 percent.

Betty’s energy corner

A recent New York Times article helped bring to light dangers of keyless ignition vehicles. Without a key to turn and remove, it is easy to forget to push the button to turn off the vehicle.

A friend and I went on an outing recently. When we returned to the vehicle, we realized the car had not been shut off and was still running.  It was so quiet that neither of us had noticed it was on during that entire hour.

What if this had happened in an attached garage? Deadly carbon monoxide would have quickly filled the garage and seeped into the house with potentially lethal consequences.

A similar but different concern can be raised about autostart key fobs. It’s easy to accidently sit on a phone and call someone. What if the autostart button is pushed by accident while a vehicle is in the garage? What if a child finds the key fob and is playing with it? Again, these scenarios demonstrate a serious danger of carbon monoxide filling the living quarters of your home.

One major difference between the keyless ignition and the autostart is that an autostart will run on a timer, usually for about 20 minutes; however, a car with a keyless ignition will run until it runs out of gas.

Carbon monoxide detectors are affordable (approximately $30) and they save lives. Be sure you have a working carbon monoxide detector on each floor of your home. If your carbon monoxide detector does sound the alarm, immediately go outside or to your neighbor’s house and call 911. Do not assume it’s a false alarm. Fire personnel have sensitive CO detectors and they can tell you if it is safe to return to your home. Carbon monoxide is colorless and odorless and it’s deadly. It is also important to replace outdated detectors, as they only last so long.

For more information about healthy homes and indoor air quality, visit AHFC’s Research Information Center, AHFC’s building science library at www.ahfc.us/efficiency/research-information-center/ or call 330-8166 in Anchorage or 800-478-4636 statewide.

Betty Hall, energy information specialist can be reached Monday-Friday at AHFC’s Research Information Center located at the Dan Fauske building, 4300 Boniface Pkwy, Anchorage, AK., or online at ahfc.us.