Assistance Provided for Residences in Northwest Alaska
The Northwest Inupiat Housing Authority is offering financial assistance to homeowners in the Northwest Alaska to improve their homes, pay for utilities, and mortgage payments. This program is made possible through the federal Homeowner Assistance Fund program, which is part of the COVID-relief program, and the funds are provided by the U.S. Department of Treasury.
To be eligible for the program, homeowners must be tribal members and meet the income requirements, which stipulate that their household income must be 100% or less of the median income for their household. For instance, a two-person family must earn $79,900 or less, while a five-person family cannot earn more than $88,800, according to the income limits summary for Northwest Arctic Borough.
The program has received a considerable response from the community, with 75 homeowners applying for assistance in November and December. The majority of the applicants requested help with home improvements, including repairs, overcrowding, and ensuring their homes are safe and habitable. For instance, an elderly homeowner requested assistance with a new hot water heater and a new wood stove since their furnace is not working.
The Housing Authority plans to assess the condition of the homes and prioritize important improvements, such as fixing heating, doors and windows, and air circulation systems. However, the assistance is limited to $30,000 per home, including the cost of shipping the materials.
Furthermore, the program is also assisting homeowners with their utility bills, including electricity, heating fuel, water and sewer payments, and trash removal. The funds can cover both their delinquent and future payments. Out of the 75 applicants, 63 requested assistance with electrical bills, 61 with heating fuel, 57 with water and sewer payments, and four with trash removal.
Lastly, a few applicants also requested assistance with their past and future mortgage payments, insurance, and reinstating the mortgage. “Only 12 households among applicants chose mortgages,” said Paulette Schuerch, housing director at the Northwest Inupiat Housing Authority. “I was thinking that it was going to be a lot more than that.”
To identify where local homeowners needed financial assistance most, the Housing Authority sent out a survey to 145 homebuyers in the region, as well as each of the tribes and municipalities. After drafting its plan for the program, the authority sought feedback from communities, then waited for the Board of Commissioners’ approval and submitted it to the Department of Treasury for review.
The application for assistance is now closed, but the Housing Authority plans to launch a second round in the future. Meanwhile, residents in Kotzebue, Kivalina, and Noatak Buckland need to contact their tribes to seek assistance.
The Housing Authority plans to conduct a new borough-wide housing needs assessment this month to identify the number of dilapidated, abandoned homes, and those in need of improvements. This assessment will capture the needs of the community, including identifying the number of people with disabilities living in these homes and whether there is a need for assisted living facilities in the region.
To conduct the assessment, the Housing Authority is hiring about 23 people, including survey coordinators and surveyors. “All of our surveyors will be going door to door and meeting with folks just having that sit-down discussion,” Schuerch said. “We want to try to get a really in-depth capture of the entire community.”
Overall, the Northwest Inupiat Housing Authority’s program provides critical support to vulnerable homeowners in the Northwest Arctic, ensuring that they can afford to keep their homes safe, habitable, and warm during these challenging times.