COVID-19 housing relief expanding on Peninsula

Oct 15, 2020

Credit KBBI

Residents of Kenai, Soldotna and Kachemak have been eligible for housing relief funding for a month or more. Soon, residents from the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s unincorporated areas will be able to apply for rent and mortgage relief, as well.

The relief comes from a partnership with the Alaska Housing Financing Corporation. Much like the programs in the cities, this one will subsidize up to $1,200 per month for eligible households, paid directly to recipients’ landlords. 

The borough assembly voted to approve the resolution at its meeting Tuesday night. The eligibility criteria for this program will mirror that of the cities — meaning households must earn less than 80 percent of their median area income and have to prove that their households have been negatively impacted by the pandemic.

Borough Community and Fiscal Projects Manager Brenda Ahlberg said this is the first time a program of this type is happening at the borough level.

“We actually had this opportunity brought before us through one of our assembly members Tyson Cox,” Ahlberg said. “And moving forward we were able to confirm that the borough as a second-class borough has the ability to do this type of program, as a result of Alaska statutes under emergency disasters in a non-area-wide perspective.

Assembly member Tyson Cox, who co-sponsored the resolution with Hal Smalley, and is, himself, a landlord, said he got the idea to introduce the program to the borough when he heard it discussed at a Soldotna City Council meeting. 

“The real kicker to me was that ... it was not going to be a big stressor on the staff because with the amount of money we’ve received, even though that’s a lot of money and it’s good to put it out to the public, it created a lot of work for our current staff in our municipalities and in the borough,” Cox said. “And so this is a good program because AHFC will do the work and they’re not charging the cities or the borough any extra money to do that. So all money that’s involved with these programs goes directly to people who need help with either their mortgage or rent. 

The city of Kenai has already increased the funds available through its version of this program, finding more need than anticipated. But that funding still only goes to residents of the cities.

“I talked to folks at the City of Soldotna yesterday and through their applications they have had to deny 30-plus applications because they’re not in the city, they’re in the borough,” Cox said. “So that was another good reason to start looking at it as a borough-wide, rather than just in the cities.”

Applicants will complete their applications online, through an AHFC website and application portal. Funding will cover expenses from Sept. 1 to Dec. 31.

The resolution appropriates $2 million for this program. In case not all that is needed, there is a second part of the resolution directed at nonprofit organizations with homelessness programs. That would distribute approximately $200,000 per grantee.

Whether the borough appropriates funds to those programs depends on how much money is leftover, Ahlberg said.

“We just wanted that as an option so that we wouldn’t have to go back to the assembly and say, ‘Oh, by the way, can we do this as well?’ So essentially those things have been captured in one resolution,” she said.

The resolution notes that the urgency comes from the quickly approaching winter and the need for homelessness relief during that time. The next borough meeting is not until mid-November.

Ahlberg said the borough is hoping to launch its new housing relief program at the end of this week.