Nearly 100 residents of the greater Homer area on Saturdayattended a community forum on housing solutions.
The event, hosted by Christian Community Church, was sponsored by a coalition of organizations including the South Peninsula Hospital Foundation, Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District, Homer Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center, Choosing Our Roots, MAPP, and the City of Homer. Denali Daniels, president of Denali Daniels + Associates, Inc. in Anchorage, facilitated the event.
“We wanted to invite you out to participate in this conversation, because this is about you,” Jeffrey Eide, director of the South Peninsula Hospital Foundation, told attendees during the event. “This is about your voices and what we can do as a community together.”
In a presentation, Daniels reviewed preliminary results from the Homer housing surveys that were made available prior to the event. 172 community surveys had been completed, with the majority submitted by residents with Homer zip codes. Twenty-six employer surveys had also been submitted prior to the forum.
In answer to the survey question identifying barriers to housing, Daniels said 32.7% of responders indicated affordability, 32.1% indicated a lack of housing, 18.7% indicated vacation rentals or short-term rentals, 7.8% indicated seasonal housing, and 8.4% indicated “other” barriers.
The event hosted two workshops, one on community priorities for housing and one on possible solutions and next steps. Participants broke into small groups to discuss what survey results stood out to them, what themes appeared most prevalent among community responses, and solutions for housing issues.
The impact of seasonal or short-term housing, including second homes, rentals and Airbnbs, on available inventory, was a common theme discussed.
Several groups discussed how being “seasonally” employed doesn’t equate to those employees not living in Homer year-round, and highlighted the difficulties that both employees and employers have in being able to find and afford housing in the area.
Many attendees agreed that long-term leasing should be more widely available, and that there is a general need for greater diversity in housing options to fulfill the needs of both current and prospective community members.
Another common theme running through multiple small groups focused on the lack of affordable housing, utilities, land costs and new-constructions materials costs.
Among solutions discussed were creating tiny home parks or building lease-to-own yurts, giving incentives to homeowners and landowners to provide a greater volume of affordable housing, providing incentives for year-round occupancy, providing more and affordable camping opportunities for seasonal workers, and creating a shelter for all vulnerable people in transition.
Several attendees also suggested looking into what the City of Homer and the borough might be able to do to advance housing solutions. Some suggested creating a task force to write specific policy recommendations to the Homer City Council. Addressing the city’s comprehensive plan and zoning were also brought up as ways to better support housing.
Overall, a consensus appeared among attendees that a continuation of the kind of collaborative group meeting seen at the March 25 event was necessary in order to keep moving forward toward realizable goals and solutions and to create equitable ways to engage with the local and borough governments.
“This proves how important this kind of gathering is,” Karin Marks, Homer representative to and treasurer of the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District Board of Directors, told the Homer News. “We need to continue, planning needs to be done. We have to keep moving forward (on this issue); we cannot stand still.”
Robert Ruffner, director of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Planning Department, was also present at the event and told attendees that Borough Mayor Peter Micciche is “very concerned” about the ongoing housing crisis and “very interested in working with Homer” to achieve solutions.
The surveys, which can be found on the DDA landing page at https://ddaalaska.com/homer-housing-solutions/, will be available for “a couple more weeks,” Daniels said. A definitive deadline for completing the survey has not yet been given.
A report of the information and data collected during the event will also be compiled by the forum organizers and made available at https://ddaalaska.com/homer-housing-solutions/.