By Leigh Armstrong

Renting a place to live is a tough, but mostly unavoidable, part of life that is more and more common with younger generations. 

With everything being talked about for increasing the amount of housing in Skagway, much of it’s being pushed toward creating single-family homes or seasonal rentals. While Skagway certainly needs that, they also need to look at the people who are in need of rentals lasting a year or longer. These are the rentals that people need when they move to town. Without these rentals, Skagway’s population growth will start to dwindle from not having a full spectrum of options for incoming people. 

In a 2018 study from the University of Minnesota, it shows that the majority of people in their 20s rent their homes rather than buy them. This moves up to people buying homes in their 30s, but most spend their 20s in rental market. These are the people who have recently graduated college, bringing new ideas and knowledge to their chosen careers. These are the movers and shakers who are looking for a place to rent and settle down. These people also won’t be able to choose Skagway as a place to bring their expertise because of a lack of quality rentals. 

Note the word quality. While there are rentals that pop up on Skagway Swap consistently, some are from landlords who don’t live in the municipality full time and some are for winter only. After that, the condition of the rental properties has to be taken into account.

From trailer homes with insufficient sealing, to modified duplexes made into triplexes by using a piece of drywall, many don’t qualify as something people want to settle down into and stay for an extended period of time. It makes it a hard prospect to attract the younger generation to come live here.

When one gets a rental in Skagway, they tend to try and hold it tight and stay with it. Not only because the increasing rarity of anything qualifying as an annual lease for a replacement, but the chances of an affordable home to buy are few and far between.

According to Sperling’s Best Places, a website that tracks housing, income and other community data nationwide, the median home price in Skagway is $387,000. While most of the homes in Skagway are assuredly worth that cost, it’s not likely a new family coming to town will be able to foot that bill, pay for the move and settle in efficiently — assuming a house was available on the market.

That’s not even taking into account lower-income workers in Skagway. Every community has people who don’t make as much money, but still need enough to live and thrive otherwise they leave the community.

These are the people who rely on rentals in order to live in the community. Too often, these workers shift housing every six months in Skagway. When you have your life ready to be boxed up to move every six months, what is preventing you from making a little bit bigger move to somewhere else when a better position comes up with an opportunity to actually live somewhere year-round?

What can Skagway do to combat this and encourage growth? While building new apartments for potential year-round residents would be fantastic, it’s clear that the municipality is putting its focus on seasonal residents and those with the cash flow to buy a house. That much has been abundantly clear as borough discussions over housing always come down to RV parks for our summer residents.

Maybe some rental oversight in the community could make a difference. For those individuals who have an apartment, is it such a foreign idea that it should have to live up to some codes put in place by the municipality? Those homeowners in Skagway deciding to rent out their properties should be held accountable for their condition. 

The 2030 comprehensive plan is showing that Skagway’s biggest area of growth in population will be young families and elderly. While we can certainly attract people to come here, unless we start thinking about improving the housing situation for all, including long-term renters, we have no way of keeping them here. The small-town charm can only go so far before someone decides to live in a place they can reliably get a quality place to live that’s affordable.