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11/7/2018
Lack of housing hurts Kodiak community

KODIAK (AP) — A shortage of family housing in a village on Kodiak Island is having a snowball effect on the community, according to residents.

People in Larsen Bay say the lack of available homes in the village of 85 people makes it difficult to attract more families.

A lack of students this year led to the closure of Larsen Bay School. The school closure makes attracting families even harder, the Kodiak Daily Mirror reported .

"What the communities need and what they want is housing for their children, to raise their families," said Betty MacTavish, an 11-year resident of Kodiak who has taught in area villages. "If you don't have children, you don't have schools, and you don't have a viable community."

Some homes are owned by people who live off the island and use them only a few weeks each year.

Of the 140 properties in Larsen Bay listed on the 2018 tax roll, 74 are owned by individuals with a mailing address in Larsen Bay, according to Maggie Slife, Kodiak Island Borough resource management officer.

Of the remaining 66 properties, 31 are owned by individuals with a mailing address elsewhere on Kodiak Island, and 34 are owned by people with a mailing address off the island, mostly outside Alaska.

Of 74 properties owned within the city, 31 are owned by the city of Larsen Bay.

Larsen Bay Mayor Bill Nelson declined to comment for this story.

The closure of Larsen Bay's only school makes it harder to attract families. The school was a social center for the community, said Sherry Harmes, who purchased her home in 2006. It was a place where kids and adults would gather for art projects, cultural projects, potlucks and volunteer activities. Even funerals were held there, Harmes said.

"It's very hard to attract families," she said. "We have lots of houses out here that are empty. They're absentee owners. They either refuse to rent them, or they try to rent them for an exorbitant amount."

Not all of the empty houses are well maintained. Safe, habitable houses for rent or sale are a rarity.

"There are homes that are in disrepair, that you wouldn't want your grandparents to live in, let alone children," Harmes said.

The Kodiak Island Housing Authority offers assistance with housing. Mindy Pruitt has been KIHA executive director for just more than a year and has worked for the organization for nearly two decades. Larsen Bay is not the only Kodiak Island village facing a housing shortage, she said.

Over the last five years, Pruitt said, she has seen more homes being purchased across the archipelago for use as a vacation home or a hunting lodge. As residents age, some move to cities but opt to keep their homes, she said.