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Touching down on the runway of BRW airport in Utqiaġvik, Alaska (the community formerly known as Barrow), we could already tell from the views of ice floes in the Arctic Ocean and mossy tundra that we were in for a new experience. In late June 2021, Warren Kramer, Community Development Director, and Ella Mitchell, Community Development Officer, met with team members of Taġiuġmiullu Nunamiullu Housing Authority (TNHA), a beneficiary through the HUD Rural Capacity Building 2018 grant. After over nine months of working together virtually, the team was excited to meet in person for a week and see with their own eyes what it’s like to work on housing in Alaska’s North Slope Borough.  Utqiaġvik is a community of 4,500+- people and is the northernmost city/town in the US, located north of the  Arctic Circle.

Griffin Hagle, Executive Director of TNHA, graciously picked up MHP staff at the airport and brought us on a driving tour of Utqiaġvik, pointing out TNHA properties and unique building techniques, as well as local landmarks like the tribal college and hospital. A whole range of unique, cold climate construction materials and techniques are used in housing development when building on permafrost.  Construction materials must all be transported by ocean barges to Utqiaġvik from Anchorage.  They say the first $150,000 of housing development cost, per unit, is the transportation costs of the construction materials.  A primary focus of the visit was to finish the strategic planning process we’d started months earlier, with TNHA staff and board members.  TNHA is governed by Board members who represent the six native Alaskan villages TNHA serves. Since there are no roads connecting these six villages, the board members need to fly into Utqiaġvik to participate in board meetings and the strategic planning work.  Dr. Pearl Brower, a longtime Utqiaġvik resident and former president of Iḷisaġvik College, facilitated these meetings, leading the group in team building activities and discussions about the future of TNHA. The final product was an approved Strategic Plan that will guide TNHA’s work for the next several years.

In between sessions, the group enjoyed pastries homemade by very talented TNHA staff, participated in a weekly group walk around town hosted by the Mayor’s office and even caught a glimpse of the annual whaling festival, Nalukataq. Utqiaġvik is a  centuries old whaling village which is still a significant part of the community’s culture and economy.  Some 32 teams of local whalers went out in pursuit of bowhead whales in 2021.  22 of those whaling teams successfully harvested a whale this year.

We were also able to tour a 29-unit apartment built in 1977 that TNHA is in the process of renovating with funding from HUD and other entities. Some other highlights of the trip included a delicious barbecue dinner hosted by Griffin and his wife Kelly, a tour of the NOAA Barrow Atmospheric Baseline Observatory where researchers around the world are tracking weather and climate change data, and a visit to the Iñupiat Heritage Center to learn more about local native history and culture.

While North Slope communities share many housing challenges with other rural and tribal communities in the United States, they also face unique challenges due to their extreme remoteness and unique physical environment. Sustainable housing solutions are a critical innovation need as these communities are directly impacted by the effects of climate change, including tundra subsidence and sea level rise. For example, all housing in the area is built on piers or stilts so that the heat from the building does not thaw the permafrost beneath the home. More recently, sled rails have been added to cap the stilts so that the structure can be moved if the coastline changes and the community must relocate. Energy efficiency measures such as improved insulations, new windows, and electric stoves are also critical improvements because utility costs can be astronomical in the North Slope’s deep winters and indoor air quality during these months can be a major issue. MHP’s successful trip to Utqiaġvik brought these issues to life as staff were able to see in person the real issues and challenges of working in this remote region, as well as the strengths and commitment of our beneficiary up there, TNHA. ~Ella Mitchell

 

This October 19 MHP presents the Housing Institute Summit in Rochester, MN. The hybrid in-person/live virtual access event will provide the opportunity to network with other community teams, funders, developers, and to learn more on key topics such as grant management, naturally occurring affordable housing (NOAH), community design process, green communities’ standards and more. There will be multiple tracks for teams and participants to follow depending on their project goals, and the opportunity to present project concepts to funders and developers for feedback. The all-day summit kicks off with keynote speaker Jennifer Ho, Commissioner of the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency. All Housing Institute #7 (HI-7) participants are invited to attend the conference. 

Governor Walz is soliciting input to inform his request to lawmakers on how to spend $1.2 billion in federal American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds. The Governor’s office has requested people submit requests for the ARP funds through this MMB portal by Thursday, September 30th. This $1.2 billion is in addition to $500 million that the Governor has and can spend at his discretion. 

MHP is following the recommendations of the Homes for All Coalition, which includes $50M for supportive services and shelter, $300M for preservation, $55M for housing partners and support, $200M for new development, and $20M for emergency rental assistance related activities. 

We encourage advocates to take a moment to fill out the survey. Feel free to copy and paste the below text into questions 4, 5 and 6. 

Thank you!


Question 4)

Public health; disadvantaged communities; renter and homeowner assistance

Question 5) 

Supportive Services & shelter support- $50 million

  • Funding for shelter and supportive housing programs to ensure people experiencing or at-risk of experiencing homelessness have access to shelters, transitional housing, supportive services and COVID mitigation and prevention.
  • Uses include: Emergency Services Program COVID-19 aid; technical assistance to implement Housing Stabilization Services; and more

Preservation & Anti-Displacement- $300 million

  •  Funding to preserve, acquire and rehab affordable multi- and single-family housing. Preservation and rehab programs can mitigate the home health risks that disproportionately impact renters and homeowners with low incomes, such as mold and mildew, asbestos, and radon and lead positioning.
  • Uses include: Public housing rehab; Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing (NOAH) preservation and acquisition; homeowner rehab; lead remediation; manufactured housing rehab, replacement and infrastructure

Housing partners and local support- $55 million

  • Capacity and financial support for local partners who have been working to distribute COVID 19 housing assistance and prevent evictions and foreclosures
  • Uses include: housing partner and provider capacity funds; tenant eviction defense (legal advice, legal services, and representation in court); homeowner counseling and foreclosure prevention; local housing trust fund match

New development- $200 million

  • Uses include: shelter capital; homeownership opportunities; lowest income rental housing; supportive housing

Emergency COVID-19 Housing Assistance- $20 million

  • Support the roll-out of both RentHelpMN and HomeHelpMN to prevent evictions and foreclosures
  • Uses include: additional funding for field partners; technical assistance dollars; eviction prevention dollars; additional dollars for COVID rental and homeowner assistance

Question 6)

Minnesota faced a housing crisis before the pandemic, but COVID-19 has exacerbated this crisis. Unsafe housing often means exposure to lead, asbestos-contaminated vermiculite, and mold, all which can cause health issues and are serious COVID- 19 comorbidities. For people experiencing homelessness or who are unhoused, the risk and spread of COVID-19 may be more likely if shelter and services are provided in congregate settings with limited isolation or quarantine space and due to lack of access to health care. Lack of access to safe, stable, and affordable housing disproportionally impacts communities of color, heightening COVID-19 and public health inequities, while access to safe, affordable and stable housing is an essential public health intervention to mitigate the spread and risk of COVID-19. Use of the ARPA funds for housing across the continuum is called out as an eligible use throughout the Department of Treasury Interim Final Rule from May 10, 2021.

 

Call to Action!

House and Senate leaders are negotiating with moderate Democrats over the size of the “Build Back Better Act,” a $3.5 trillion comprehensive infrastructure and economic recovery package. It is critical that Congress use this once-in-a-generationopportunity to prioritize investing in decent, accessible, affordable housing for those with the greatest needs 

What action can you take? Call your US Senators and Representatives!