This week’s Petersburg Borough assembly meeting ran two hours long and featured several presentations from the Housing Task Force, which was created in October of 2022 to address the shortage of affordable housing in town.

The meeting opened with Brian Wilson, executive director of the Alaska Coalition of Housing and Homelessness. He reported on how other Alaskan communities are addressing issues related to homelessness. He said homelessness is everywhere in Alaska — and that there’s a large number of folks who think it’s just an Anchorage thing, or just a big city thing. But that’s not true.

“Every community has extremely low income individuals,” said Wilson. “And one thing leads to another and people end up in houseless situations. They look different from community to community, the numbers might be smaller, but the relative impact to smaller communities and smaller numbers is a big thing.”

Housing Task Force Member Gary Aulbach suggested starting a land trust in Petersburg, modeled off of Sitka’s Community Land Trust. While land trust residents would own their home, they would not own the land it’s on. When they resell the home, they can only make a 25% profit, which would guarantee that the houses remain affordable for future buyers.

Chair of the task force, Dave Kensinger, said Petersburg could prepare lots for sale that can easily be hooked up to utilities. The task force identified approximately five lots that the Borough currently owns. Kensinger said that these lots could be hooked up to power, sewage, and water with relative ease. A later Assembly meeting would decide how these lots are purposed, but Kensinger said these lots would be low-hanging fruit if and when the Borough decides to develop an area. 

Housing Task Force Member Sarah Holmgrain suggested the Borough create a zone for manufactured homes. She’s also a local realtor.

“What I’m seeing in my own world of real estate is that people have not been able to afford [homes] since interest rates have gone up,” said Holmgrain. “And remembering when I moved to Petersburg as a young child in the 80s, there were a lot of manufactured homes because interest rates were quite high and that’s what middle-income and lower-income families could afford at the time. Plus, they’re often used as a stepping stone to stick-built homes. And maybe even some of you started out in a manufactured home before you made that stick-built home.”

Holmgrain said she found four large tracts of Borough-owned land along North 8th Street, which are close to town and could accommodate families with one car. Right now, they’re all zoned for multi-family units, or apartment buildings. She proposed that the Borough examine this parcel and consider rezoning it for smaller lots where people can put up manufactured homes. 

Petersburg’s Borough Assembly will meet again in the Assembly Chambers on February 21st at 6 p.m. You can listen to the recording of the most recent meeting on our website. There’s more information on KFSK’s community calendar.