With a journey that spans more than 40 years, Cook Inlet Housing Authority’s story is one of transformation and innovation, always with the goal of creating safe, affordable housing opportunities for the people of Southcentral Alaska. CIHA’s corporate values of Compassion, Innovation, Honesty and Accountability guide our journey each step of the way.
Our humble beginnings, in 1974, established our roots in the provision of affordable elder (senior) rental housing. Funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) was used to support a variety of early programs at CIHA, but that funding was unpredictable and sparse, while the needs of the people of Alaska were tremendous and the cost to build housing in the region was (and is) extremely expensive. Slowly, CIHA grew the number of rental apartments for seniors to 267 units located in east Anchorage, Seldovia, Kenai and Ninilchik.
In 1996, HUD reorganized the system of federal housing assistance provided to Native Americans by creating an Indian Housing Block Grant (IHBG) through the Native American Housing and Self Determination Act (NAHASDA). NAHASDA allowed more flexibility for local decision making, creating opportunities for CIHA to change its business model. And, we did change!
By the year 2000, Cook Inlet Housing began the work of expanding its rental housing portfolio by listening and investigating the need. We discovered that families and individuals were consistently being turned away when they sought housing, because of our limited portfolio, which at the time served only senior households. Anchorage needed more affordable housing for families and individuals. In 2002, we opened Strawberry Village Cottages in south Anchorage. It was our first family rental housing development and began our journey of trailblazing innovative funding methods to address our affordable housing demand. Leveraging mixed sources of funding allowed CIHA to take a bold step, applying Fair Housing laws, to provide housing opportunities to all eligible low and moderate income people in our service area, regardless of race. This was a milestone for CIHA.
CIHA not only wanted to expand its rental housing portfolio, we wanted to provide homeownership opportunities for those residents ready to take that next step. In 2001, CIHA started Cook Inlet Lending Center (CILC), a Community Development Financial Institution, in order to offer low and modest-income individuals and families, access to affordable financial products and services towards their home purchase. Currently CILC offers lending products to communities and families of all races, nationalities and income backgrounds within the state of Alaska.
In 2004, CIHA again took a bold step after identifying the neighborhood most in need of better affordable housing opportunities. We broke ground on our first phase of rental housing in the neighborhood of Mountain View in Anchorage. By 2016, our neighborhood revitalization efforts in Mountain View had brought us to our fifth phase of work in the neighborhood. Altogether, we built rental housing for 269 households, in a variety of housing styles including single family, duplex, triplex, fourplex and larger multi-family, mixed-use buildings; because no two families are alike and every household has different needs. Our work in Mountain View served as a catalyst for other investments by private and public entities in the neighborhood creating economic opportunities and investment in public infrastructure.
Beyond the numbers of apartments that CIHA offers is our ongoing commitment to the residents who call a CIHA apartment, home. We are not your typical landlord. Our Resident Engagement initiative promotes independence and self-sufficiency through activities, events and partnerships focused on health, wellness, education, opportunity and financial fitness. Residents have many opportunities for improving and changing their lives, enabling better future outcomes for themselves and their families.
Over the past forty years, CIHA has evolved from being a housing developer to becoming a community developer. CIHA’s role as a catalyst for housing development and neighborhood revitalization puts us at the front and center of issues ranging from homelessness and affordability to infrastructure and regulatory barriers. CIHA is sought out because we are innovative, outcome driven, and a great partner. In fact, OUR success is because of partnerships. We can’t effectively or efficiently do community development alone or in a silo. There are many organizations in the public and private sector who partner with us to bring new developments and neighborhood revitalization efforts to fruition.
Our partnership motto “working together works”, means that coordinated efforts among partners allows each of us to bring our expertise and capacity to the table to maximize outcomes and benefits for the communities we serve. For example, CIHA has had a long partnership with Catholic Social Services (“CSS”) on the Brother Francis Shelter one of Anchorage’s critical emergency shelters. We developed and own the facility while Catholic Social Services provides the much needed operations and programming. With Covenant House Alaska, we “loaned” our Vice President of Community Advancement to serve part-time on their executive team so that we could deepen our knowledge on youth homelessness and work on a rent readiness program. This latter opportunity was truly a creative approach to partnership.
In its transformation, CIHA has embraced risk and innovation to continually push past barriers for customer service efficiencies, building efficiencies, back office efficiencies and unique leveraging and partnership opportunities for the maximization of development funding. We have been fortunate to receive national recognition for our creativity and success along the way. But, it is the thanks and appreciation of the people we serve that is truly the most treasured.