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.
CIHA was established to help provide affordable elder (senior) rental housing. Funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) helped support a variety of early programs at CIHA. But HUD funding was unpredictable and sparse, and couldn't meet the needs of the people of Alaska. The cost to build housing in the region was (and remains) extremely expensive. CIHA stepped up to the challenge and, over time, found the resources needed to grow the number of rental apartments for seniors. By the end of CIHA's second decade, we had 267 units available to seniors throughout east Anchorage, Kenai, Ninilchik, and Seldovia.
In 1996, HUD reorganized the system of federal housing assistance for 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.
Over the next few years, Cook Inlet Housing responded to community needs and began expanding its rental housing portfolio. Because our limited portfolio only served senior households, we couldn’t offer homes to families and individuals so they were turned away. We knew that had to change. Anchorage needed more affordable housing for all people. In 2002, we opened our first family rental housing development, Strawberry Village Cottages, in south Anchorage. That began our journey of searching out and securing innovative funding methods to address the demand for affordable housing. That move to leveraging mixed sources of funding allowed CIHA to take a bold step. With Fair Housing laws as our guiding force, we began 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 that made it possible to help grow communities around Southcentral Alaska.
We knew that helping people find affordable rentals wasn’t enough. The next step: help people who wanted to turn their dream of home ownership into a reality. In 2001, CIHA started Cook Inlet Lending Center(CILC), a Community Development Financial Institution. CILC offers low- and modest-income individuals and families access to affordable financial products and services that help them buy homes. CILC offers lending products to Alaska’s residents, no matter their race, nationality, or income background.
In 2004, CIHA began an important neighborhood-focused initiative to provide better affordable housing in one of Anchorage’s most in-need communities, Mountain View. By 2016, we had 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. The range of options recognized that 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.
But CIHA’s commitment to our communities doesn’t end when the apartments are rented out. We offer services far beyond the average 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.
Our efforts over the past forty years have turned CIHA from a housing developer to 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. We are innovative, outcome driven, and a great partner. Our efforts to partner with public and private organizations began with our realization that we can’t effectively or efficiently do community development alone or in a silo.
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 handles operations and programming. We also partner with Covenant House Alaska in a truly innovative way: our Vice President of Community Advancement serves part-time on their executive team, allowing us to deepen our knowledge on youth homelessness and work on a rent readiness program.
Throughout our transformation into a community-building organization, CIHA has embraced risk and innovation to continually push past barriers for customer service efficiencies, building efficiencies, and back office efficiencies, as well as 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 our community members’ thanks and appreciation—as well as their dedication to community building—that is truly the most treasured.