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Agency wants ugly rentals upgraded and back in affordable housing market

Fairbanks Neighborhood Housing Services offices at 1427 Gillam Way.
Courtesy FNHS
Fairbanks Neighborhood Housing Services offices at 1427 Gillam Way.

A local housing agency is hoping to upgrade 30 decrepit rental units and get them on the Fairbanks housing market by next year.

Fairbanks Neighborhood Housing Services will get $1 million in federal funding to rehabilitate rental units. Director Nadine Winters said they will borrow the idea of a successful program in Vermont that gave money to owners of vacant or blighted properties who fixed them up.

“And then in return for that grant, they basically had to rent affordable through a housing agency like mine for five years,” she said.

Affordable housing is the top priority of Fairbanks Neighborhood Housing Services. So upgrading existing vacant housing is a fast way to address the problem.

“We're looking at just pretty much everything that's on the market, just to see if there's anything we can convert. Because new construction is prohibitively expensive. And it's not like there's tons of funding sources for affordable housing, you know?” she said.

Winters says the agency will flesh out the program this summer, after they actually receive the money, that came in a federal grant.

“We've been trying for like over a year now to find money and Senator Murkowski was very, very, very helpful,” she said.

The money is in the federal appropriations package for 2024. The final package passed out of Congress on March 23rd.

“We're not reinventing the wheel. We're just going to realign it. Like Vermont, they gave grants for $30,000. I'm not so sure that that's enough of an incentive in Fairbanks right now. I don't know. Maybe it is. They did $30,000 grants. Well, a million dollars, that'd be 30 units. And that's a, that's kind of a bargain these days, because you cannot build,” she said.

Winters says there is a lot of blighted properties in the Fairbanks North Star Borough. A recent plan to accommodate the military growth at Eielson Air Force Base determined about a third of the rental stock in the area was not up to military standards.

“I think everyone anecdotally knows of vacant and blighted property, so if we could turn something problematic into something good for a reasonable amount of money, we need the housing units. So, that's what the hope is,” she said.

Winters has meetings with the borough planning staff next week to talk about how the program might work including the need to hire someone to administer the program, and make outreach to landlords.

“We're looking for landlords. I'm figuring that if people hear about this that that'll spread fairly quickly,” she said.

Winters is hoping to raise more money before launching the program, so it will cover a wider geographic area.

Robyne began her career in public media news at KUAC, coiling cables in the TV studio and loading reel-to-reel tape machines for the radio station.