Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Planning commission asks if more affordable housing is needed


February 4, 2021

A planning commission discussion on amending the definition of a mobile home and the zoning use chart sparked questions about the availability of affordable housing in Haines.

The amendment in question, proposed after former borough planning and zoning tech Libby Jacobson received questions from people asking whether they could live in RVs, would allow RVs, motorhomes, travel trailers, truck campers and fifth-wheel trailers to be considered a single family residence pending a conditional use permit if they are placed on a permanent foundation, hooked up to water and or sewer services and meet all other single family residential requirements.

Trailers, under the new definition, and mobile homes would be allowed upon a conditional use permit in all residential zones. Currently, they’re restricted to mobile home parks.

Borough code currently allows for people to live in such domiciles for up to 18 months while building a permanent home.

“What is not covered is residents who wish to live in an RV/motorhome for longer than 18 months, or are not intending to build a structure,” Jacobson wrote in a memo to the commission. “While we do not want unregulated motorhomes or trailers scattered around the townsite, we would like to include some wording in the definitions that clearly shows how a motorhome or trailer can be considered ‘Real Property’ and become a single family residence.”

Jacobson told the CVN she received at least six calls regarding the issues.

Planning commission chair Diana Lapham said she was surprised by how many people wanted to live permanently in RVs.

“I was totally amazed at how many phone calls she would field by people who wanted to do this, just throw up a trailer and live in it,” Lapham said. “We know we have people that live temporarily while they’re building, but these are people who want to live in them permanently.”

Commissioners Rob Goldberg and Don Turner Jr. were opposed to such a change. Goldberg said a trailer could devalue expensive homes next door.

“There’s a reason why the code is written the way it is. It was decided long ago that the community did not want mobile homes outside of mobile home parks. The same thing goes for RVs and other trailers and cabover campers. Taking a camper or a trailer or an RV, especially in the townsite, and setting it on concrete blocks and calling it a permanent foundation, I’m sorry this is not real estate. This is a really bad idea.”

Commissioner Jess Kayser Forster said while she understands that people wouldn’t want their homes devalued, she also doesn’t want to limit affordable housing options in Haines. She said it took her family six years to build their property during which time they lived in a tiny house and a mobile home.

“If you’re going to limit the ability for low income or affordable housing to develop then we need to open other avenues for that in other ways,” Kayser Forster said. It just concerns me our intention behind not approving this is to keep it so that people who need more affordable housing options for them, that we’re closing those out.”

Commissioner Zack Ferrin agreed that RVs could devalue others’ property, but said allowing such a situation as a conditional use would ensure the borough could regulate a property from becoming unruly. “If someone’s going to do their due diligence and keep up with the place then there’s no reason that they couldn’t live in whatever they want to put on their property,” Ferrin said.

Commissioners agreed to table the discussion and asked planning and zoning tech Scott Hansen to try and determine if there’s a need for more affordable housing in Haines, and if there’s a growing demographic who can’t afford the local housing and rental market.

Haines’ subsidized housing option, Dusty Trails Apartments, currently has a wait list, according to former manager Marita Hartmann.

“Based on that, I would say there’s a need,” said current manager Jason Ghan. “We’ve had a waitlist for quite some time. We just keep updating it.”


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