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Over a hundred Homer residents turn out to discuss housing in community forum

 Homer residents discuss housing challenges and priorities in a breakout group facilitated by Jeffrey Eide with the South Peninsula Hospital Foundation
Corinne Smith
Homer residents discuss housing challenges and priorities in a breakout group facilitated by Jeffrey Eide with the South Peninsula Hospital Foundation

Over a hundred Homer residents turned out on a recent Saturday morning at the Christian Community Church to discuss housing solutions for the greater Homer area.

Homer continues to face a major housing shortage and affordability crisis, according to officials and local residents. And, with a booming summer tourism season on the horizon, plus an increasing number of short-term rentals like Airbnbs and vacation homes, both year-round Homerites and seasonal workers are struggling to find places to live.

The community conversation was organized by a coalition of local non-profit organizations including the South Peninsula Hospital Foundation, Choosing Our Roots, Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District and the City of Homer.

“I’ve had many conversations in the community, just feeling the anxiety we all have about housing,” said Jeffrey Eide, executive director of the SPH Foundation. “And in this process, we were asking the question: What can we do? What can any of us do? Well we can get together, we can talk. We can build relationships.”

At the forum, Anchorage-based consultant Denali Daniels read the preliminary results from a Homer housing survey that is open now, to assess residents’ and employers’ needs, barriers to access, and gauge potential solutions. So far, 172 people had responded, most of whom were interested in living in single-family homes.

“What’s most important when looking at a new residence? The top three priorities reported are energy efficiency, proximity to community amenities and the cost, whether it was to purchase or the rental price,” said Daniels.

According to the survey, respondents were split between two major groups: one large group of residents who said they were “very likely” to buy or rent in the next five years in Homer, and another group of residents who said they were “very unlikely” to stay.

Daniels read the top housing priorities for renters:

“Number one, running water. Number two, pets allowed. And number three, a 12-month lease,” she said.

Survey results also found about a third of respondents were concerned with affordability (33%), while another third reported concerns about a lack of housing in the area (32%). Nearly 20% reported concerns about short-term rentals and 8% on seasonal housing availability.

According to data by a local real estate group, the Kachemak Keller Williams Alaska Group, Homer home prices have more than doubled since 2015, from just over $200,000 to $426,943 in 2022. The cost of available land has also increased dramatically.

Homer has also seen rents skyrocket, similar to communities across Alaska. That’s as short-term rentals surge through programs like Airbnb and Vrbo, leaving fewer options for those looking to rent more long-term options — a major topic of discussion at the forum.

Participants gathered in small groups to discuss these challenging factors for Homer, also referred to as the “Aspen effect.” Named after Aspen, Colorado, the economic and social dynamics drive the cost of living up for communities that are also popular tourism destinations.

Rick Abboud, Homer’s planning director, presented for one breakout discussion group at the forum that discussed the phenomenon.

“The ‘Aspen effect’ being, we live in a beautiful place, lots of people want to live here, lots of people with money come in and buy up a lot of the properties. Hot properties,” Abboud said. “Prices go up, and we end up with the people that support the town that can't afford to live here.”

Participants discussed lack of senior housing, options close to community amenities, high costs of building, seasonal summer workers and the disproportionate impact on low income Homerites.

Abboud also reported his group worried about having enough housing for essential workers like nurses and teachers.

“Lack of housing prevents healthcare providers from living here,” he said. “So we’ve got important professional people that are really part of our community that we need, who can’t afford to live here.”

After laying out the scope of the problem, residents talked about housing solutions.

Some ideas included building tiny homes, lease-to-own yurts, or hostels for seasonal workers. Others brought up encouraging affordable land sales from the city or borough, or fast-tracking construction for multi-family affordable houses in the city. There were discussions around incentives for property owners to keep housing affordable like offering rent subsidies, tax exemptions, or utility rebates for renting to year-round residents.

Participants debated how to manage Airbnbs, since Homer does not currently have a bed tax — often charged to transient guests in hotels or motels — or a business tax for these types of short-term rentals. Some said they want to see short-term rentals regulated, like with a permit system, while others want to see tax revenue reinvested in community programs like low-interest construction loans or local developers.

Organizers will be compiling the ideas for housing solutions generated at the forum, along with data from the survey, later in April. They said they’ll make it available to the public before presenting to the Homer City Council.

The Homer Housing Needs Survey for residents and for employers is open now through Friday, April 28 at 5pm. Find it here on the City of Homer’s website.

Corinne Smith is an award-winning reporter and producer who hails from Oakland, California. She’s reported for KFSK in Petersburg, KHNS in Haines, and most recently as a fish reporter for KDLG’s Bristol Bay Fisheries Report.
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