Causes of Housing Shortage

by Chris Kolerok

A safe home is the foundation of health and economic well-being. With a safe home, children are able to focus on their education, family members can be rested to work and it has a positive impact on our overall health and wellbeing.

A few weeks ago I described the housing problems in Alaska, and our region. Alaska’s homes are overcrowded, inadequate or dilapidated. Knowing what we know about the importance of housing, why is housing such a problem in Alaska?

Well, it all starts with Federal funding, which is the cornerstone of affordable housing for Native people in Alaska, and the entire US. In short, Federal funding has not kept up with increasing costs. And our villages are growing.

The Regional Housing Authorities and Tribal Housing Departments develop the most housing in Alaska’s rural villages and for Alaskans who earn low-incomes in urban areas. These are largely funded by Federal formula from the Native American Housing and Self Determination Act, or NAHASDA. This act replaced eight (8) programs from the Department of Housing and Urban Development into a single grant and provided more local control of housing decisions to Tribes. It was a groundbreaking move by Congress on 1996.

The problem with NAHASDA funding is that it has not kept pace with inflation, even though non-Native housing assistance grew! The first NAHASDA allocation to all Tribes across the US in 1999 was $613 million. In 2020, the NAHASDA allocation was $655 million. For the 21 years between the first and last allocation, the NAHASDA amount should have grown to $962 million just to keep up with inflation, but it only grew to $655. In other words, because inflation grew over 21 years, Tribal housing programs have 1/3 less money than they did in 1999 to build new homes and comply with Federal requirements.

There have been some small increases outside of NAHASDA. HUD held competitive grant rounds in 2019 and 2020 for Tribes and Housing Authorities and six (6) Alaskan organizations were able to win about $22 million for new construction. That doesn’t address the problem of housing for those 221 other Tribes that were not successful, or did not even apply to the competition. 

How did the rest of HUD do? Did HUD also lose 1/3 of its ability help non-Native people? In 1999 HUD’s overall budget was $26 billion. In 2020, HUD’s budget was $56 billion. If HUD’s budget grew at just the rate of inflation, it would have been $41 billion. Over the last 20 years Congress funded HUD much more than NAHASDA. So that cause of our housing crisis is pretty clear – we have lost money while the rest of HUD, providing housing assistance to non-Natives, received more funding. For my next letter I will explore some possible solutions.

About the author: Chris Kolerok is Director of Government Affairs with Cook Inlet Housing Authority. He is a Calista shareholder and member of the Native Village of Mekoryuk. Previously Chris served as President/CEO of the Bering Straits Regional Housing Authority headquartered in Nome.