As rents rise, relief programs run out
Rent is expensive on the Kenai Peninsula and it is becoming increasingly difficult to find a rental, let alone afford one.
Median rent on the Kenai Peninsula rose about 2% in 2021, according to the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Renters paid an average of $1,023 per month in 2021. Under common rental practices, landlords require tenants to earn at least three times the rent, meaning that to pay for the average apartment, a tenant must earn nearly of $34,000 a year after taxes to afford this.
Love, INC is the main hub for people who need help paying for housing in the Central Peninsula. There are other agencies that help in specific circumstances, including the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation and the Independent Living Center, but Love, INC receives grants from the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development to help cover the cost of housing . But for the past year or so, it has been difficult even to get help there, as the housing stock shrinks and rents soar.
“It felt like we could see it happening,” said Allison Bushnell, housing records manager for Love, INC. “We knew it was coming, honestly. We just hoped it wouldn’t be so bad.”
Every day they have a waiting list of 30-70 people asking for help finding affordable housing. Sometimes, says Bushnell, they just have to shut down the apps and point people in the best possible direction because they can’t wait forever. Alternatives are to join the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation waiting list — which can last a year or more in the Central Peninsula — or search for vouchers through programs such as the Independent Living Center.
Bushnell said the Peninsula has always struggled to maintain an affordable housing stock, but over the past year it has become particularly thin and more expensive. She says that’s partly due to the eviction moratorium, where landlords had to pick up the costs when tenants couldn’t pay rent and could stay anyway. Now landlords are more reluctant to rent and ask for a lot more income and referrals before renting.
“And so we had to compensate for that by offering double deposits, which quickly reduces our funding,” she said.
Unfortunately, this exacerbates the impact – if each client is more expensive, Love, INC’s funding may cover fewer people. In addition to federal grants, they also receive donations to help them. In 2020, these donations were above average, but have declined over the past two years.
“People who were in a financial position where it wasn’t going to make or break them if they got that stimulus were very generous,” said Leslie Rohr, executive director of Love, INC. “And so that first year, our giving actually went up. But last year and this year, it went down.
In January, Love, INC also opened an emergency homeless shelter in Nikiski that can accommodate up to 22 people. Several agencies worked together to purchase the building, which is near the Nikiski Recreation Center, but Love, INC operates it. Rohr said he has received help from churches that support Love, INC — for example, the Nikiski Methodist Church provides rides to services for shelter clients and hosts a weekly game night at the shelter. Several families have already been able to find accommodation outside the shelter, which opens up more space for others. Rohr said they also plan to operate the refuge during the summer.
However, the management of the refuge also requires financial resources. For example, the entrance had to be cleared of snow and the roof had to be shoveled, which represents an additional cost for the NPO. Rohr said that if people have the capacity to help, donating to Love, INC can help support some of those essential functions that grants don’t always cover.
“Keep in mind that it takes a lot of work to make this program work,” she said. “There are employees – and I can tell you that my staff are underpaid and overworked to the point that it really bothers me. And because we rely on donations for so much of what we do in this building in particular, it’s like, if you want to continue to be here, we need financial support.”
Bushnell said people who cannot find housing may turn to camping or living in cars during the summer. She says she continues to work with landlords who are willing to give tenants who may not have the best records a second chance, for example, those who have been evicted. Many landlords that Love, INC works with are individuals, who are able to offer some flexibility on rent policies.
In the long term, however, Rohr said the peninsula needs facilities such as permanent supportive housing – where someone can help coordinate with residents to ensure they receive care support. behavioral health and other services they need – and potentially more buildings renovated to provide affordable housing.
More information about Love, INC is available on their website.
Contact Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]