New homes to be awarded to Alakanuk residents

Posted: Tuesday, September 04, 2001

ALAKANUK (AP) -- Nine families will find out Tuesday night if they are the ones to receive new homes in an ongoing effort to solve this village's housing problems.

Five of the homes arrived in late August by barge. It was the second of three shipments from a Renton, Wash., factory. Three were delivered in July and one more is on order.

The houses were shipped from Renton to Dutch Harbor before being transferred onto a barge for delivery on the bank of Alakanuk Pass, a channel of the Yukon River where this village sits.

Alakanuk, Sheldon Point and Hooper Bay are receiving the houses this year thanks to funding from the Association of Village Council Presidents Regional Housing Authority. It receives grants from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department under the Native American Housing and Self-Determination Act. Alakanuk last received houses through the program in 1994, when 21 arrived.

Ongoing erosion along the banks of Alakanuk Pass threatened the safety of about two dozen houses in the village of about 652 residents, according to a consultant's report prepared for the tribal council in June 1998.

''Housing has been the number-one concern for our community,'' said Raymond Oney, tribal administrator.

Alakanuk homes are concentrated mostly along one road parallel to the river, making them prone to flooding. Breakup typically floods the village to depths of 2 to 4 feet. In 1993, the City Council adopted an ordinance requiring all new buildings to be set higher than five feet off the ground, the high-water mark recorded during a 1952 flood.

In recent years, the village has tried to create a buffer zone by moving buildings back from the river. It relocated seven houses in 1997 and 1998 that were close to the river. It received a community development block grant from the state in 1999 to move another 14 houses.

About five homes remain in the buffer zone, Oney said.

Moving existing houses out of the river's way and installing water and sewer lines helped improve the quality of life but didn't do anything to help the village's housing shortage. The 2000 U.S. census counted 139 occupied units and 21 vacant ones.

The vacant units are uninhabitable, Oney said.

A fifth of Alakanuk's houses were built in the early 1970s by the Alaska State Housing Authority. The 29 ASHA houses are all substandard, said Mike James, tribal housing administrator.

The first prefabricated houses arrived in 1994 through the regional housing authority. The 21 homes were built in two pieces and assembled upon arrival.

The nine new houses look similar except they were built in one piece, which James said should make them more sturdy and energy efficient.

''Hopefully other houses we get in the future will be built like that,'' he said.

They have exterior walls almost a foot thick and stuffed with insulation. The houses came in light shades of brown, blue and yellow. Most contain three bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen and a bathroom. The walls are made of wood panels and are plumbed and wired for utility hook-ups.

The housing authority received 61 applications for the houses. The seven-member tribal council was to announce Tuesday which families would get the homes.

Eligibility is determined based on family size and income as well as how long someone has been on the waiting list, James said. Those not selected will be considered for renovation funds.

''Even if some people might not be happy that they aren't getting a brand-new house, some will get their home renovated, so it'll be a blessing in disguise,'' he said.

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