Why Anchorage Lacks More Residential Building Sites
It’s no secret that Anchorage is running out of lots, whether it’s for multi-family or single family development. There are many buyers in today’s local market that are frustrated due to the lack of larger lots. Many want to move-up from their 6,000 to 8,000 square foot lot into a more hillside, larger lot community but there is little inventory. The stream setback requirements of up to 100 feet make building on some lots and tracts impossible. Lack of road infrastructure with the heavy burden on the developer, without participation from the MOA, makes some higher elevation land un-developable, without going beyond many buyer’s comfort zone for a new home which frequently tops out at around $800,000.
However, Anchorage is not alone in its woes for more building sites. A recent article in the online publication,BUILDER, aptly described the pressure building on land acquisition and development across the U.S. The front loaded investment for land acquisition at 65% loan to value plus the regulatory stranglehold of the permitting process adds an additional 24% to the cost of development, according to national statistics. Here in Anchorage during the l980’s and into the l990’s, a developer could buy a tract of land and have finished lots by September of the same year. Now, add another year for platting and perhaps another year or even two for a rezone if there is objection from the local community council. Meanwhile, Anchorage’s housing crunch continues with home building at historic lows of less than 200 single family units for the past three years. According to various reports, Anchorage needs 900 new housing units a year. All total in 2017, including multi family and publicly subsidized housing, Anchorage failed to meet even 50% of its publicly stated goal.
Locally, part of the problem is lack of advocacy by the home builders themselves. Most don’t have the personal resources to hire paid staff for advocacy to changes to the Design Criteria Manual which establishes road standards. Nor do they have lobbyists to lobby the local elected officials for MOA participation in the extension of water and sewer or sharing in the cost of rural collectors which would open up more hillside vacant land. I once had a mayor tell me that a city defines itself by its commercial and community buildings. Well and good but where are the users of those buildings going to live? In the Valley which continues to have population growth while Anchorage continues to lose over 1,000 citizens for the past few years?
Anchorage needs all types of new housing—both public and privately developed and financed. After all, 75% of our housing stock was built between l970 and l990 which means most of our units are meeting ‘their end of life’. But, along with the mega plans for mixed use, multi-story rental units, lets not forget where most of Americans and Alaskans want to live—in a single family home with a garage big enough for their pick-up truck.