Significant barriers for older Alaskan renters
September 1, 2022 | View PDF
Gayle Slentz has lived in Alaska for more than 30 years. Now, she is moving from Craig, Alaska to Tucson, Arizona, to live with her sister Kris and brother-in-law Ken Howell. Slentz, age 67, cannot manage her home on her own and the rental market in Craig is virtually nonexistent and has been steadily declining over the past 30 years, she said.
“Craig is smaller than it used to be. It now lists 1,036 people, a drop from 1,200 just two years ago,” Slentz said. “When I was looking for a rental, there was nothing. The availability isn’t here. I am not able to run my house myself. The utilities are too much. But housing here is very, very tight. There isn’t any availability, and if something does become available, it is expensive.”
Slentz said she will miss Alaska a great deal. However, even if a rental unit became available, the cost of a two bedroom apartment plus utilities is simply too much money, she said.
She is far from alone. There are growing numbers of older adults in Alaska who are in similar situations. It is difficult to find a rental unit all over Alaska, but it is even worse in rural and remote areas of the state.
Real Property Management currently oversees residential and commercial rental properties for private landlords in the Mat-Su Valley, Anchorage, Kenai and Homer areas.
“The market is very tight and fast moving right now, making it difficult to find a place to rent,” said Kassandra Taggart, who is with| Real Property Management Inc. “We are currently experiencing a 0% to 2% vacancy rate in 2022. In 2021, we were experiencing a 2% to 3% vacancy rate.”
Depending on the property type and location, it is estimated there have 10% to 30% increases on rent prices year over the past 12 months in Alaska. If a person bought a home, the median home cost in Anchorage is $341,100. The median home cost for the state overall is $293,400. Known for being one of the most expensive states, the cost of living in Alaska was found to be 24.09% higher than the national average as of January 2021.
Formidable application process
Every company and landlord has a different application process due to the type of services they provide and type of client they might be able to service. Many rentals involve a substantial application process that includes a credit check. This can work against someone who hasn’t been in the workplace or is moving out due to divorce or death of a spouse. However, the issue tends to be more about availability than employment status. Most potential renters are assessed on much more than credit checks and employment history.
“This is (done) on a case by case basis,” said Alaska Housing Finance Corporation (AHFC) Director of Planning and Program Development Daniel Delfino. Landlords in Alaska in growing numbers are opting for lease terms to be month-to-month instead of one-year. This is being done to minimize risk for landlords and their ability to remove deadbeat tenants.
“This is due to the CARES Act still being in place making it easier to provide a 30-days’ notice to end a lease rather than a Notice of Non-payment and following the eviction process with the current moratoriums that are in effect,” said Real Property Management’s Kassandra Taggart.
Only in recent years have many of the do-it-yourself (DIY) landlords embraced online tools, according to Taggart.
“As a result, the application with a DIY landlord will be much simpler than that with a company. Applicants facing life transitions where it might impact their credit qualifications will want to be prepared to provide additional documents with their application to help increase their chances of approval,” said Taggart.
These requirements can include three months of recent bank statements or documents that show stability in income sources, such as three months of pay stubs.
“We host a club called ‘The Landlord’s Almanac Club’ and it has around 3,000 landlords. Based on many of their conversations it seems pretty standard to charge 30 days of rent plus a deposit before starting the lease. However, applications that are higher risk in being able to consistently pay rent might be charged a higher deposit,” said Taggart.
Subsidies and home sharing
Jim McCall, housing relations officer with the AHFC Senior Housing Office, said older adults should see if they qualify for federal or state rental subsidies, including AHFC and many others. “Many of these units are income-based and offer rental payments below the private market,” said McCall.
Many older adults need to think differently about whether they want to do home sharing. McCall said home sharing can have many hidden benefits.
“In the end, Dorothy, Rose, Blanch and Sophia may have provided us with an answer to many of these underlying questions when the ‘Golden Girls’ debuted over 35 years ago,” said McCall. Home sharing is much more common in the Lower 48 than Alaska, but there are websites, such as http://www.silvernest.com, where owners avail their homes to individuals, as do renters seeking others to help pay for the cost of housing. (Though current Alaska listings are thin or non-existent.)
“These relationships, born of necessity, grow into something far less transactional,” said McCall. “While housing is certainly made more affordable in these living arrangements, social isolation decreases, thus lowering the risk of depression, possibly delaying the onset of dementia. By having someone nearby to keep an eye out in case of falls or other emergency medical needs, premature deaths are reduced.”
Moving is not cheap and can be extremely difficult for seniors. Utility transfers can add up, among other costs.
“While relocating outside of Alaska may seem to be the immediate answer, it’s important to note that nearby Washington and Oregon have fewer rental units per 100 of extremely low income renter households than Alaska,” said McCall.
Other considerations and tips
McCall said older adults hoping to find a place to rent will need to think outside the box and be open and receptive to all resources and ideas.
“No single agency has the answer and it will take collaboration to assist,” said McCall. Here are some of his suggestions:
Try negotiating a lesser increase, lock it in, and buy time during the contract period to educate oneself about the local market and shop for something more affordable.
Contact the HOPE Hotline at 888-995-HOPE or 888-995-4673 for a wide array of counseling services, including rental and education services. Reverse mortgage and homeownership counseling services are also available.
Negotiate a longer lease period, if possible, to help lock-in something you can afford now.
Consider offering to give-up an amenity offered, such as a parking space, in consideration of a reduced rent
Within reason, scrub your monthly budget to find ways to save money elsewhere and then hold-on as the housing market eventually settles back to a more normal level.
Consult with local non-profits and faith-based organizations.
Be honest and forthright with family and friends and ask for their assistance;
Consider modifying your living arrangement: Is subletting allowed? Is moving in with a family member an option, at least temporarily?
For more assistance, contact AHFC:
Senior Housing Office, Jim McCall, 907-330-8436 or toll free outside of Anchorage, 800-478-2432
Statewide Homeless Housing Office, Jennifer Smerud, 907-330-8255 or toll free outside of Anchorage, 833-330-8255