The state of Alaska recently received $38 million from the Department of Housing and Urban Development with the aim to ease the burden of climate change.
Margaret Salazar is HUD’s Northwest Regional Administrator. She oversees HUD’s programs around Alaska, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. Last week she attended Arctic Encounter, the largest annual arctic policy event in the country, where she made the announcement.
Salazar says the new funding is to help villages get ahead of natural disasters.
“We’re helping folks work upstream with things like technical assistance to start planning ahead for housing development, as opposed to just funding the sticks and bricks part of housing supply,” she said.
The money was made available through the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery Program, or CDBG-DR funds. These funds are aimed at helping communities better rebound from presidentially declared disasters, but Salazar says the state will be allowed to allocate the new funds for preventative measures.
“Now when the State of Alaska, who’s our grantee, when they get those dollars, they can use some of them for that planning work,” she said. “This is brand-new policy that we’ve rolled out.”
Salazar says she hopes to fund plans before natural disasters happen.
“Village relocation, and rising water levels and soil erosion are forcing folks to make some impossible choices about relocating their homes,” she said. “And one of the exciting opportunities we have right now is the opportunity for HUD to align and join forces with our other federal agency partners.”
Some of the departments she listed include the Environmental Protection agency, the Department of Energy, and the Department of Transportation.
But climate change isn’t the only issue Alaskans face when it comes to housing. Unlike communities on the road system, folks in bush Alaska can’t commute for work, so housing can be a limiting factor for growth.
Salazar said her trip to Kodiak last week gave her a new perspective on the issues Alaskans face when compared to their rural counterparts in the lower 48.
“What we see and what we heard today in Kodiak was just the lack of being able to expand economic opportunities because of a lack of housing,” she said. “So if we can’t find ways to house our folks, we can’t find ways to expand job opportunities and it becomes a cycle.”
But developing new housing is especially difficult for communities that aren’t directly connected to Anchorage. Rural communities often face high costs for shipping, difficulty accessing building supplies, and even finding workers to do the construction.
To reduce some of the barriers local governments face, Salazar says HUD also approved new grants to help them work out regulations that prevent housing development.
“Whether it’s things like zoning or building codes or permitting process, we can be a partner in terms of federal dollars but we want to make sure that the local folks are doing their work to have a plan ready to have shovel ready dirt so that when we can funding housing development, we can get that done quickly,” she said.
And while she praised local entities like the Kodiak Island and Cook Inlet Housing Authorities, Salazar says there’s still more work to do and looks forward to continuing partnerships with entities around Alaska.