Petersburg housing review sees need for over 300 more units

Housing is a big concern for communities across Southeast Alaska, from Ketchikan to Skagway and every town in between.

In Petersburg, the results of a community survey indicate that more than 300 housing units may need to be built or renovated over the next decade.

The borough assembly set up the housing task force to research and address the problem. The survey results were reviewed at a task force meeting on Aug. 17, where Assembly Member Dave Kensinger said: “I think we need to figure out a way to start building more housing. It’s pretty simple. If we don’t deal with it, we won’t have as many people in town.”

Kessinger said that’s the easy part of the solution. The hard part is what type of housing. To answer that question, the task force launched its community housing needs survey. It ran for a month in the summer, overseen by Anchorage-based Agnew Beck Consulting.

Katie Scovic, senior manager at Agnew Beck, explained the results to the task force. “We had 366 responses. … That’s about 10% of the population and a really great rate for this kind of survey.”

The survey was 10 pages long with 39 questions: A quarter of respondents aren’t happy with their housing, and most of those who aren’t happy are under 45 years old, working and renting. Most of them want to move into family homes, but apartments and duplexes are popular too. About 80% of all respondents want to see more land with utilities opened up for housing.

In addition, the survey shows that a lack of skilled labor and the cost of repair is holding people back from renovating their homes.

Scovic said that even those who don’t fall under any of those categories still care about this issue. “The majority of Petersburg residents are satisfied with their own housing,” she said. “But also the majority of residents say that housing is a community issue. And so to see both of those things, at the same time, is encouraging.”

The team at Agnew Beck have been sifting through all that data to calculate what housing they think Petersburg needs.

“According to our housing need forecasts over the next 10 years, there’s a need for roughly 316 housing units in Petersburg,” said Scovic. “We’re really looking at about six new units a year and 18 rehab or renovation units each year for the next 10 years.”

The consultants will submit their final report at the end of September.

Kensinger said time is short. “The time to done something was 10 years ago,” he said. “If we want to keep a vibrant community and we just don’t want a community of a bunch of retirees, we need to address the housing problem now — not next year.”

Stories of housing searches are common around Petersburg.

The community has a new fourth grade teacher this fall — Sharon Paulson. She moved to Petersburg this summer. She started looking for housing soon after signing her contract in March.

“I looked on Zillow, which was laughable,” said Paulson. “Someone said check on Facebook, and I saw that there really wasn’t very much there. I looked with the realtor companies, both of them. I had my (school) administrators putting the word out for people. We had a list of Airbnbs to ask if maybe they would rent to us.”

After nearly two months of searching, Paulson spotted a classified ad in the newspaper.

“That was the last hope that I had for being able to find housing,” she said. “It really was like, if we can’t find housing, we can’t make this move. So when we finally did find a house and our offer was accepted, like I could visibly see the stress fall off of my husband’s face.”


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