Econ 919 — More affordable housing opens in Kenai

Mar 12, 2021

Ninety days before it was finished, a new apartment complex on Redoubt Avenue in Kenai already had a waitlist.

“We had people, the contractor and construction crew had people coming by throughout last summer, wanting to know when they were going to get done and when they could sign up," said Steven Rouse. He's executive director of Kenai Peninsula Housing Initiatives, a Homer-based nonprofit with affordable housing complexes across the peninsula.

Its newest project is Kenai Meadows, a block of apartments for low-income seniors. KPHI finished the first Kenai Meadows building in 2018 and just opened the second. Between the two, there are 12 apartments.

They’re for people 55 and up who bring in 60 percent or less of what’s considered the median income for the area. In 2020, that was over $37,000 for someone living alone. For a family of four, it was almost $54,000.

Two Kenai Meadows apartments are set aside for tenants who make 30 percent or less of the average median income.

“We have to do an income certification process to make sure that they qualify under the federal standards that we are mandated to enforce," Rouse said. "And if they do, then their income is certified, their rent is restricted, we have a maximum that we can charge them based upon their income. So it truly makes it affordable.”

Rent typically ranges from $400 to $900 a month.

Next to Kenai Meadows is Clear Pointe, another KPHI complex for low-income tenants. Clear Pointe also has a waitlist.

“People ask me all the time, ‘How did you get in here?’ And I’m like, ‘I was the first one, that’s the only way," said Alycia Backstrom.

Backstrom and her partner were the very first tenants at Clear Pointe. They stumbled across it somewhat randomly, in 2018.

“We went into Alaska Housing for an appointment, to finish up our paperwork and we saw the flyer for it," she said.

They were both newly sober at the time and weren’t working. She was living in a recovery home for women and he was living with his mom.

“A lot of people weren’t willing to accept that we were going to get jobs and didn’t trust us on that point," she said. "And they did. They gave us a shot, you know?”

The waitlists alone are testament to the need for affordable housing on the Kenai Peninsula. The pandemic has put additional pressure on tenants, evidenced by the high demand for rent relief locally.

But those struggles long predate COVID.

“We’ve developed every year one, two and sometimes three projects a year solely on the Kenai Peninsula and we’re only scratching the surface of the need," Rouse said. "We’re limited as far as the availability of funding and other circumstances but I can’t envision ever meeting the demand.”

When Clear Pointe opened in 2018, a real estate consulting firm found that over 30 percent of local households met the complex’s income requirements.

Backstrom says if it wasn’t for Clear Pointe, they’d probably still be living with her partner’s mom. Their current apartment is spacious for them and their two young kids.

“It’s pretty big," she said.

KPHI is also now finishing an apartment complex in Homer.

“Any particular project, the first thing that we do, which makes us a little bit different than most other not-for-profit corporations, is that I calculate how much debt we can afford," Rouse said. "How much mortgage debt.”

KPHI subtracts the debt from the overall cost of the project and then finds funding sources to fill the gap.

Those could be land donations from the city, like the 2.5 acres Kenai contributed for Clear Pointe and Kenai Meadows. KPHI can also get contributions from philanthropic organizations like the Rasumusson foundation and state and federal development grants.

That’s all while the buildings are being built. Once they’re up, it’s up to KPHI to keep things running.

A big focus recently has been ensuring tenants have access to support during the pandemic.

“And have them not get so far behind that when the moratorium on evictions comes, they’re not rendered homeless," Rouse said.

KPHI has plans to build several units in Soldotna soon. The complex will be its 10th to date in Soldotna.