Coalition explores the future of alternative housing in Nome
By Julia Lerner
As Nome’s Emergency Shelter Team, NEST for short, prepares to welcome its first guests for the winter season next week, many Nomeites are continuing to discuss housing solutions and the plight of homelessness in Nome and the surrounding communities.
Groups like Nome’s Housing Coalition, currently exploring grant funding and partnerships for the Nome Community Center’s Housing First project, and Nome Eskimo Community, which recently hosted a community meeting on their 3-D concrete printing housing development project, are exploring solutions to the region’s significant housing crunch.
“Affordable housing is a big problem, not just in Alaska, but nationwide,” explained Xtreme Habitats 3D, Inc., founder Bruce Kraselsky during NEC’s housing development meeting on Thursday, October 21. “The problem is far worse in Alaska, particularly rural Alaska, where, in addition to a deficit of affordable housing generally, issues because of overcrowding and cost-burdened and unsanitary conditions, population increase, as well as problems caused by climate change, there’s a desperate need for both new housing as well as replacing and refurbishing housing that exists. That’s really what we’re focusing on.”
NEC partnered with Xtreme Habitats., as well as the Denali Commission and Baker Tilly, to research and fund several 3-D printed concrete homes in the region. They hope to have several homes finished before the end of next summer.
“Our plan now is to build two houses in Nome by the end of next summer,” Kraselsky said. “We have our work cut out for between now and [then]. … It’s one thing to build a conventional house in Alaska. It can be done, but it’s extremely expensive and it takes a long time, and by itself it’s not solving the housing problem. It’s time to try to look at a different technology and see if we can come up with a better mousetrap, and hopefully we can.”
Kraselsky says 3-D printing is not a new technology, but the use of it in home construction is developing rapidly. Using it to construct homes, he says, is an opportunity to mass produce low-cost, environmentally conscious and sustainable structures, particularly in regions that desperately need them. “This is an opportunity to use new technologies to try to change the way housing is constructed and hopefully bring the costs dramatically down,” he explained. “[We can] create a more sustainable structure with a lower carbon footprint, and hopefully something that’s more durable than before.”
NEC is not the only Nome-based organization exploring alternative housing options, though. The Nome Community Center, which organizes the Nome Housing Coalition and operates the NEST emergency shelter from November until April, has received partial funding for their 15-unit “Housing First” Project, designed to provide housing for the unhoused residents of Nome.
The Housing First model “allows for the most vulnerable and chronically homeless individuals to achieve housing with no barriers or contingencies,” explained NCC Executive Director Rhonda Schneider in a letter to Nome’s Common Council. “[This model] has also been shown to be a cost-effective approach with decreased emergency room care and lessened criminal activity and therefore an increased quality of life.”
The project will feature 15-studio style apartments, as well as living space for a property manager, a group common space, a laundry room, a check-in desk for safety, and an on-campus clinic for medical care.
The next step for the project is to identify a location for the apartment complex.
“They need about 21,000 square feet of land to place the facility, and the issue right now may be where it goes, will we have to extend water and sewer to it,” Nome City Manager Glenn Steckman said during Monday’s Common Council meeting.
NCC is exploring several sites around the community for land selection, but finding a location already hooked up to water and sewer access is proving to be a challenge for a space this size.
Council members had the opportunity to ask Steckman questions about the project, homelessness in Nome, and the City’s partnership with NCC Monday. “We are always looking for money for the [Nome] Community Center,” he told councilmembers. “It’s a priority for the staff here at city hall because a lot of calls and demands on our police department and ambulance service are, unfortunately, due to some members of our community that have serious problems.”
Over the last several months, emergency calls for service around Front Street, where many of Nome’s unhoused community members congregate, have dropped significantly. Steckman told councilmembers that emergency calls to the Front Street area were down 50 percent in the last several months, due in part to AC Quick Stop’s new alcohol policies.
Bering Straits Regional Housing Authority’s housing manager Colleen Deighton said it’s more than just an updated alcohol policy during a recent Housing Coalition meeting.
“[We’ve] knocked the number of ambulance calls to Front Street down by half,” she explained during the meeting, where participants discussed NCC’s Housing First project and other measures designed to keep Nomeites and regional residents housed, including the use of Emergency Rental Assistance program funds distributed by the housing authority.
“Some factors that might effect [ambulance calls] are the number of homeless people being housed through [the] reentry program being funded by the ERA program, as well as the move of the day shelter out to the Wellness Center over the summer, and Quick Stop’s new policy of only selling one bottle per person per day,” she told the Nugget. “It’s really a group effort.”
NEST will officially open its doors at the Karmun Center/Nazarene Church for the season on Monday, November 1, and will remain operational throughout the winter.