Changing the Face of Affordable Housing

Changing the Face of Affordable Housing

Manufactured home, constructed with local materials, Prince of Wales Island

Manufactured home, constructed with local materials, Prince of Wales Island

The term ‘affordable housing’ sometimes has a stigma associated with it. Depending on who you ask, It also means multiple things to various people. When we say affordable housing, we mean a rental or permanent home that may be rented or purchased by an individual or family with a living wage. There are multiple, creative housing types for increasing the amount of affordable housing in Sitka. The most desirable approach would be one with a triple bottom line ethic, not just highlighting the social justice issue of affordability, but also encouraging economic growth of local builders and suppliers, and reducing the carbon footprint of our homes. This means not only saving energy through design, but locally sourcing materials and decreasing our reliance on barged products for construction.

The tiny house movement is a design and social movement centered on living small and simply, and is one solution to affordable housing.  Sitka is surrounded by federal and state private lands, so as a community, it is faced with a conundrum. How to encourage growth and promote sustainable development with literally no room to grow? The simple solution is going smaller and denser. Density is a valuable tool, allowing a municipality to control growth and develop districts. In many communities where space isn’t an issue, it is used to preserve open space and agricultural lands outside of a community. In a place like Sitka, it is necessary to allow for sustainable growth and affordable housing options which lead to mixed-income and diverse communities. The tiny house is the symbol of living with less and in a smaller space, as opposed to recent trends of maximizing square footage. Tiny houses add environmental value to homes and set a new standard. While it may not be for everyone, tiny house living can contribute to a greater environmental ethic in more ways than one. In addition to the tiny home or microhome style houses, another planning and development tool for affordable housing that is gaining momentum is the Community Land Trust. The SCDC (Sitka Community Development Corporation) has established the Sitka Community Land Trust, an entity that maintains ownership of a lot or parcel, to ensure the house or residence remains affordable. The local land trust is currently working on its first project, the Lillian Drive house.


When rethinking housing options, a heavy focus on the triple bottom line and sustainability broadens the scope of the issue to include local energy needs and costs. This means transforming the face of not only affordable housing, but community development, which has become a significant force in the national sustainability movement.  Given our location, Sitka is heavily reliant on imported materials, food and fuel. All of which are associated with rapidly rising costs. However, with planning, deliberate design, innovative amenities and import substitution, Sitka’s housing model can be redefined. This new way of thinking about housing may generate community awareness and lead to more local jobs along with providing new, innovative housing options.

Sitka and its efforts have been fortunate enough to catch the attention of the State of Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development (DCCED). The DCCED worked with the Cold Climate Housing Research Center (CCHRC) to conduct a case study on Sitka and the Land Trust’s Lillian Drive project.  The CCHRC prepared a full report that addressed design elements, energy efficient construction methods, housing features and components, and local timber materials. They also prepared concept designs that illustrate how these elements may be incorporated into the design and planning of a home with goals of maximizing space, building in energy efficiency, and sourcing local materials to reduce the overall carbon footprint of a house.

A 'tiny home' cottage, photo:citylab blog

A ‘tiny home’ cottage, photo:citylab blog

As Sitka’s housing needs grow and change, SCS is hoping to see more projects that embrace at least one of these key features: affordability, energy efficient, locally sourced and produced.  SCS  is especially interested in the use of local materials as our community explores these various housing models.  We will be partnering with UAS and SItka High School on projects this spring.  SCS hopes that  pilot projects can help change perceptions and lead to more community development that focuses on a paradigm shift and diversifies our local, affordable housing stock.

Community Catalyst Report: Sitka

I am fresh off of our trip to Vancouver for the Community Development coursework and looking forward to our SSP retreat this week. Here is a brief summary of some of the work and progress in Sitka!

• It looks like a tiny house with the UAS course is not in the cards this semester/year. There are several road blocks and issues at this time.However, I am partnering with the class to construct a new Visitors Bureau kiosk. So far we are slated to provide a portion of the materials through our project fundingI am also working with Pat to source as much lumber as possible through local millers. My goal is that we can also have some sort of interpretive signage and brochures at the kiosk highlighting the local materials. The structure will be about the size of a tiny home, so it is a nice compromise for now. I am meeting with instructors at the High School this week to revisit potential project options there. I also attended a meeting yesterday at the city with several community members interested in microhomes and affordable housing projects. I am hoping for two things: first some major policy changes that will facilitate future microhome projects, and second, a potential partnership with some of the attendees, SCS and Sitka High.

• Renovations are on-going at Sitka Kitch and we hope to have them wrapped up in the next two weeks or so. We are going to cap the Applooza event with a workshop on apple trees led by Jud Kirkness and help prepare a bulk order of fruit trees for interested Sitkans. The Sitka Kitch canning classes were wildly popular but we thought that the extension agent would only be able to travel once per year to communities. I have since learned that she may have received new grant funding for more travel. So I am hoping this will allow us to organize another set of canning classes, including the soups and sauces class that many participants expressed interest in.

• Sitka Collaborative Stewardship Group: We had a quick meeting last night. It was sparsely attended, but there was a lot of updated information from the FS about the Kruzof Island restoration projects. Andrew was also able to share info about the TAC and remind people that they can attend the TAC meeting in November (19-21st) here in Sitka.

• As I mentioned, Alana, Lia, Adam, Bob and myself ventured to Vancouver last week with other to begin our course work. It was really interesting and eye opening, I am very excited about the programming. It was also nice to have a chance to get to know  other SSP partners better as well as other people working on similar projects throughout Canada. Over the next several months we will be attending classes online and working towards a better understanding of Community Development and what that means for our communities.

• Wilderness Kiosk in Petersburg: SCS partnered with the Petersburg district so they could take advantage of the National Wilderness Association’s kiosk grant program. We are administering grant funds and helping them source all of the materials for building a kiosk. They have ordered everything through Gordon Chew in Tenakee and will have high school students building a kiosk entirely of locally sourced Tongass timber.

• This week I will be attending the SSP retreat along with the other SSP partners. I am really looking forward to all the new momentum and spending time connecting with everyone!


Sitka Community Catalyst News

Greetings from Sitka! September was a hectic and busy month. It was capped with a fun vacation to Montana, but I am back in Southeast and ready to hunker down for winter.

First things first, at Sitka Conservation Society (SCS) we welcomed a New Yale Fellow!  The Yale Fellows are a group of recent graduates who come to Sitka and serve in a similar capacity to Americorps and other volunteers, for a limited stipend, housing and the experience of working in Sitka.  Michelle Huang, joined us as a Yale fellow, she has a background in economics and spent her summer participating in the Bike and Build program. She biked from Providence, RI to California (approx. 4600 miles!) with a group of other graduates. Along the way they stopped in communities and participated in habitat for humanity and other housing organizations’ building efforts. I spent some time last month getting Michelle familiar with the SSP, our projects and meeting project partners in town. She will be working with me at SCS for the next few months and helping out with the Sitka Kitch and young-growth projects.

Microhome on wheels, Dwell Magazine Blog

Microhome on wheels, Dwell Magazine Blog

Speaking of young-growth, We continue to work with Pat Hughes and UAS to get a course centered on the construction of a tiny home up and running. There have been a few snags along the way, but we hope to have them resolved quickly. This week we are meeting with members from the city to discuss some of these challenges and see how we can make the project work and meet all of our intended goals: use locally sourced young-growth timber, provide vocational training and education, highlight innovative design, reduce environmental impact of construction and maintenance, and explore/develop a model for affordable, local housing. I am also working on a project handbook to document this project process. It will also include information on zoning, what types of housing options are available (accessory dwelling, tiny house on wheels, etc.) and which make the most sense for given properties and needs.

The Sitka Kitch project secured a grant for 13,000$ this summer and the renovations are currently under way. In July we held a few classes that were a huge success. This past month we partnered with other organizations and 4H (Thank you Mary at SCS) to organize the “Applooza event”, a community service project. 4H students harvested apples and this coming week will be learning to make applesauce. Most of the applesauce will be donated to the senior center and salvation army. We will continue to work with the church and are currently developing an MOU to outline how and when Sitka Kitch can operate, with a goal to offer classes on a more regular basis and begin working with small businesses to use the space. We applied for a substantial grant through the Local Foods & Marketing Program with the Agricultural Marketing Service within the USDA, and unfortunately were not selected. It was a highly competitive program and ultimately it seems like our project was not the type that they were looking for.

Scott Harris and I have been helping graduate students from the University of Michigan to develop a thesis project with Kruzof Island as a case study site. The students have finished up the field work and are currently working on surveys and data collecting. They had a survey printed and included in the Sitka Sentinel a few weeks ago, but it may also be filled out on-line. They are still seeking survey responses, so if you live in Sitka, or frequent Kruzof Island please feel free to participate . The students will be continuing to work on their project with a final report being prepped in the Spring.

I am planning a meeting with The Sitka Collaborative Stewardship Group meeting for late October. This meeting will be in the evening and the primary focus will be an update from the USFS regarding the Kruzof IRMP. Marty Becker will be presenting. Andrew Thoms from SCS will also be sharing info about his work on the TAC (Tongass Advisory Committee). This will be open to the public and is scheduled for Wednesday, October 29th at 6:00 pm.


What’s Cooking Sitka?

What’s Cooking Sitka?


Extension agent Sarah Lewis leads a class on canning and food preservation. PHOTO: Amy Gulick

In keeping with two of the SSP’s key directives, focus on local food and economic development, Sitka Kitch was developed. Sitka Kitch is the community project that was born out of the Sitka Health Summit being led by Sitka Conservation Society (SCS) and a devoted committee of local volunteers. The goal is to tap into local food resources, provide education and foster the development of new jobs and industries.  This will fill a missing niche in Sitka and the region, training students to fill existing jobs in industries related to our region’s tourism and food based industry. Sitka Kitch will also provide emergency preparedness and home economic based classes to increase food security at the household level. Programming and outreach will encourage community wide collaboration to address food-based issues while simultaneously improving economic development.

The long term project goal is the development of a sustainable food system for Sitka through empowerment and education. Expected outcomes include an increase in local food production, small business development, and improved household-level food security and local food consumption. This will ideally be achieved through the establishment of a shared-use commercial kitchen. Sitka Kitch does not have a permanent facility yet but is currently partnering with the First Presbyterian Church to provide  limited access. The Sitka Kitch Committee prepared a proposal to the Church’s national organization and received a $13,000 grant to upgrade the facility for commercial use and we hope to start working with small businesses in the fall.

“Sitka Kitch” also offered three classes in July (exceeding one of our goals for the 2014 health summit!). We were able to bring in Sarah Lewis from the UAS Cooperative Extension office to run the classes. Class themes revolved around the primary objectives of Sitka Kitch –  cottage food industry development and maximizing household level food security through preservation of food.

Overall class metrics:
Total student hours: 136
Total students/participants among classes: 34
Individual participants: 25 ( a few students took multiple classes)

Cottage Food Industry: 8 in attendance, 7 female, 1 male.
Class focus was on cottage food industry (rules and guidelines for what you can sell, how it must be prepared)
Kitch goal: educate locals on small, local food based business to encourage product development for farmers market and other ‘booth’ vending type events.
Class cost was $20 per participant, 3 hours

Canning the harvest: 17 in attendance, 13 female, 4 male. Ages ranged from early 20s to late 50s+
Class focused on handling and processing of meat, fish and vegetables for canning preservation.
Kitch goal: educate community members about proper canning techniques and how to maximize preservation of subsistence and other harvests, as well as store bought or bulk purchased produce. This was partly in response to the community food assessment information that found 90% of food preservation methods in Sitka was reported as freezing.
Class cost was $20 per participant, 5 hours

Jams and Jellies: 9 in attendance, all female
Class focused on multiple recipes for preparing jams, jellies, catsups.
Kitch goal: a fun twist on conventional canning, creative ways to produce and preserve local berries and food products
Class cost was $20 per participant, 3 hours

Update from Sitka

Things have been heating up in Sitka! The summer is proving, as always, to be a busy time of year for us. At SCS we have several new interns devoted to wilderness, story telling, organizing and sustainability initiatives. Personally, I have been focusing on three main pushes: our Young-Growth initiatives, Sitka Kitch and affordable housing.

Tumbleweed Tiny House Company's 'Elm'

Tumbleweed Tiny House Company’s ‘Elm’

SCS has been pursuing young-growth initiatives for quite some time. We have also been working with small, local outfitters to help build markets for local wood products. Past projects have included using National Forest Foundation Funds to get red alder into the high school wood shop program. That initiative has steadily grown and led to a new bike shelter and the renovation of a valued community theater space.  We have once again been awarded an NFF grant and are partnering with UAS Sitka and the construction technology program to construct a ‘tiny home‘. I have been working with professors from UAS Sitka and Juneau, the City and Borough of Sitka Planning department, Sitka Sound Science Center, community members and small millers to gather information and input into the planning of the project.

The project will be built over the course of the fall and spring semesters at UAS this coming academic year. We hope that this project will serve as an exploration and eventually finely tuned model for small, efficient, affordable housing options that incorporate local, Tongass products. In addition to this project, I have been sitting on the housing committee with the Sitka Community Land Trust.  SCS was able to connect the SCLT with the Alaska State Division of Economic Development. That partnership led to the SCLT getting some professional design and planning services from the Cold Climate Housing Research Center. Currently the SCLT are reviewing three design concepts and once one is selected they will receive design plans, a concept narrative and details for the house. This house will be constructed on a currently empty lot that the City of Sitka gave to the Community Development Corporation, the organization that houses the Land Trust.

The next big project on the horizon is the ‘Sitka Kitch’ project. I have submitted two proposals for funding. First to the Agriculture Marketing Service through the USDA for their Local Food Marketing Program. This proposal would provide some funding to support a part time manager and get initial programming going. This includes community classes and offering commercial kitchen time on a limited basis to entrepreneurs.  I also submitted a letter of interest to another program, Local Food-Local Places.  If we are invited to apply this funding would lead to some much needed technical assistance and planning for the project.  We will also be offering our first classes later this month. The classes will be led by UAS Extension Officer Sarah Lewis and revolve around cottage industry foods, canning of fish and vegetables, and prepping soups and sauces. Students will pay a small fee of $20 and take home what they prepare.


Flyer for Sitka Kitch’s upcoming classes

Stay tuned for more exciting updates, with all of the harvesting going on this summer we hope to provide more classes through Sitka Kitch. We are planning a pickled salmon class and partnering with the Sitka Tribe of Alaska later this summer!


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