On Tuesday, the Alaska Housing Finance Corp. announced another round of applications for the Alaska Housing Rent Relief program.
The program, which is part of the government’s ongoing COVID-relief efforts, will give direct payments to landlords and utility companies for up to three months on behalf of people who qualify for the program.
Applications for the next round of rent relief will open on Sept. 13 and end on Oct. 1. People are eligible for the program if there is at least one person in the household who has lost her or his job due to the pandemic, or he or she is struggling to pay rent or utilities, or she or he is at risk of homelessness or they are in unsafe living situations, such as being a victim of domestic abuse and require help to move out.
Median Kodiak rental rates dropped during 2020 and have been steady so far this year, while vacancy rates have been on the rise, according to the Alaska Department of Labor & Workforce Development. Those indicators are typically reflective of a weak rental market, which would show a demand for rental assistance.
In 2019, the median adjusted rent for all housing units on Kodiak was $1,366 a month, according to Robert Kreiger, a research analyst with the Alaska Department of Labor & Workforce Development. In 2020, that number dropped to $1,264, and has stayed relatively stable so far this year at $1,270. At the same time, Kodiak vacancies have increased from 11.3% in 2020 to 13.1% in 2021.
But Ben Vincent, community director at Mill Bay Townhomes, says he has seen rents skyrocket since 2019 at some properties.
He estimates that Kodiakwide, single-bedroom rentals increased from approximately $900 in 2019 to $1,300, and the rent for two-bedroom townhouses increased from about $1300 to $1700. He also has seen vacancies fill as soon as an opening is posted online.
Meanwhile, the Alaska Housing Finance Corp. gave out more than $117 million in rent relief this past year, according to the AHFC. It’s not clear how many people will apply for rent assistance in the coming round, according to spokeswoman Stacy Barnes.
“With [one-third] of Alaska’s renter households applying last winter, we feel good that we reached most Alaskans with the information they needed to apply,” she said.
Vincent agrees. Around 70% of the tenants he works with receive rent relief, and the tenants who didn’t use relief did not need it, he said. Everyone he knew of that applied for aid received it.
The Alaska Housing Finance Corp. is partnering with the Kodiak Island Housing Authority in their effort to supply rent relief, according to Barnes. It is hard to estimate how many people will apply for rent relief, she said.
The Kodiak rental market did lose a significant portion of its tenants last year, caused in part by a combination of continued migration away from the island and a drop in Coast Guard personnel living off-base, according to the Alaska Department of Labor & Workforce Development.
Coast Guard personnel are only allowed to move off-base when housing on-base has reached greater than 95% of its capacity, according to the U.S. Coast Guard Base Housing Office.
Out of single-family housing, studios and one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, one-bedroom apartments have the lowest number of vacancies at 7.8%. This is followed by four-bedroom, single-family houses that have a vacancy of 9.1%. Studio and three-bedroom apartments have the highest vacancy rates with vacancy rates, respectively, of 23.4% and 22.2% islandwide, according to the Alaska Department of Labor & Workforce Development.
Kodiak is unique in this way. Across the state, vacancies dropped from 9.2% in 2020 to 5.9% this year. Although the largest driver of this drop happened in Fairbanks, where vacancies fell from 19% to 9.5% this past year because of the increase in population at Eielson Air Force Base, every region in Alaska — aside from Juneau — saw a drop in vacancies. In Juneau, vacancies increased by 1%, according to the Alaska Department of Labor & Workforce Development.