Petersburg assembly sets up task force to look at housing shortage

The Petersburg Borough Assembly voted 4-1 on Aug. 1 to establish a new task force to address the community’s housing crisis.

Assemblymember Jeff Meucci said the task force would work with the assembly’s backing to look at housing needs in the community. “Like child care, I think this is one of the most important issues facing Petersburg,” Meucci said.

“Every person that we’ve hired within the borough over the past several months — police officers, up at the fire department, Mountain View Manor (senior citizen housing) — they were all looking for houses and without a place to stay it’s impossible for somebody to work here.”

The housing shortage is not unique to Petersburg. This year’s Southeast Alaska Business Climate Survey reported, “Housing is the region’s No. 1 economic problem. Business leaders identified housing as the top need to advance economic growth in the region.”

Of the 26 Wrangell businesses that responded to the spring survey, conducted on behalf of the regional nonprofit Southeast Conference, 86% said there are not enough homes available for purchase to attract and retain employees.

Three-quarters of Wrangell businesses said there are not enough long-term rentals available in town.

Petersburg Assemblymember Dave Kensinger said he saw creation of the task force as a necessity and suggested that using the borough’s unoccupied land and changing the planning and zoning codes could increase the availability of housing.

“I think we have to realize that this problem is going to get worse instead of better unless we start taking action now,” Kensinger said.

Assemblymember Bob Lynn supported the idea but said the assembly should hold a work session before establishing the task force in order to set specific objectives and discuss their ideas for what the group should look like.

“I think the idea is excellent, I just don’t think it’s well enough thought out yet,” Lynn said.

Lynn was the only member to vote against creating the group.

Borough Manager Steve Giesbrecht said he would meet with the consultant who wrote the borough’s 2016 comprehensive plan to talk about the potential of compiling a housing needs assessment.

The assembly will meet in a work session Aug. 29 to discuss housing needs in Petersburg and the goals of the task force.

The borough is seeking letters of interest for volunteers to serve on the 12- to 15-person group.


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