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By Dan Rudy 

Jobs and senior housing top surveys in WCA workshop


Dan Rudy/ Wrangell Sentinel

Joanne Wiita-Gamble of Tlingit-Haida Regional Housing Authority provides an overview of the past two days' planning workshops, held in Wrangell Dec. 2-3

A special stakeholders meeting coordinated by Wrangell Cooperative Association and Tlingit-Haida Regional Housing Authority determined jobs and affordable housing for seniors should be top local priorities.

This conclusion was reached using the help of participants of last week's meetings and results collected through WCA's 2015 Community Needs Survey.

Survey results found a lack of economic opportunities was the most important local issue. While the 60-plus respondents felt Wrangell's friendly people, relative safety and small size were all good reasons to live here, cost of living and a low availability of well-paying jobs for adults made doing so difficult. Those surveyed from abroad indicated the lack of jobs was the reason they were not still in Wrangell.

Going around the table, workshop participants brought up other issues as well as employment. Housing for elders and increased assisted living services were both common issues, as was establishing a community kitchen and meeting area.

"We need a full kitchen for our events. It's not just for our tribal events but the whole community," said one participant, Christie Jamieson.

Consultants, brought to town by THRHA for the Dec. 2 and 3 sessions, will turn these findings into a workable resolution to be reviewed and endorsed by the WCA Council. From there it will be used to support applications for Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) project funding.

One of the consultants, RIM First People president Michael Fredericks explained a white paper summary will be ready ahead of this week's WCA Council meeting, and that the larger report will be ready by the month's end.

Consultant Chris Mertl of Corvus Design also facilitated the workshop. He explained the projects WCA may be looking at pursuing could be similar in scope to other recent developments, like the Front Street revitalization and SNO Building renovation. Like the public processes involved in those and the waterfront master plan sessions earlier this spring, Mertl said community input will be integral to shaping the workshop and its resulting plan.

"What we want to do is repeat the same process at the tribal level," he said.

The surveying process was opened up to non-members as well, as there is some overlap between the interests of the Tribe and the wider community. For instance, Mertl is currently working on a master plan for the City and Borough of Wrangell to develop its old Institute property. In part to curb a bottleneck in housing availability, the city favors development at the 134-acre site for residential use.

"I feel there's a really good timing between these two projects," Mertl commented. Depending on what might come from discussions during the WCA sessions, he said he would be well-situated to bring up concurrent interests with the Borough Assembly.

As it stood, participants at the workshop identified pursuit of a housing needs assessment as a project priority for the Tribe. WCA president Sam Campus recommended tribal officers get together with Wrangell's senior housing administration to identify and coordinate how to better address senior issues.

At the workshop to help answer questions and provide context to the discussion was Joanne Wiita-Gamble, planning and grant coordinator for THRHA. While her organization has a limited capacity for funding assisted living and non-capital projects, she explained programs such as HUD's Section 202 are specifically geared toward such issues.

The 202 program specifically helps expand the supply of affordable housing with supportive services for the elderly. It provides very low-income elderly with options that allow them to live independently but in an environment that provides support activities such as cleaning, cooking and transportation, similar to its program supporting housing for persons with disabilities.

Wiita-Gamble said the resolution being drafted would better enable WCA to apply for such programming because it identified community goals and carried with it the weight of public input.

Similarly, Indian Community Development Block Grants through HUD would direct funding to projects related to improved housing, living environment and economic opportunities in Native communities. Such projects could address senior housing issues, but more broadly could also support efforts to promote sustainable job creation.


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