October 6, 2009

Up to 1/3 of Western Alaskan native village housing crumbling in the cold

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Wow, we’d heard conditions weren’t exactly ideal in the villages that native Alaskans inhabit in the remote western and northern parts of the state. But a new report says that up to one-third of the homes in some villages are filled with mold, buckling, or otherwise potentially unsafe to live in.

Kyle Hopkins of the Anchorage Daily News provided some  context for the report: Many of the homes in question were built in the 1970s without eaves or gutters, causing rain to soak the wooden buildings. In some cases, insulation has trapped water in the walls. He quotes the report:

Widespread use of these homes has created a problem of crisis proportions for the village: they are for all practical purposes unsalvageable,” the report says. “Yet to condemn them all would leave roughly one-third of the village without shelter.

Results presented in the study were based on an investigation of  just 55 homes in the Yup’ik village of Quinhagak, which requested the study. However, Hopkins’ story goes on to show that the very same construction methods were used widely in the farflung native villates.

The report is by the Cold Climate Research Center in Fairbanks. And while we couldn’t locate the exact report Hopkins wrote about on the center’s website, we did find this Alaska housing assessment. It says two-thirds of the really bad homes — they used a highly technical term  here: “falling apart” — are in rural Alaska, mostly in the small native villages.  And many of those buildings are quite small — with one out of every five featuring less than 200 square feet of living space per occupant.

Hopkins spoke with David Fitka, who lives in the Yukon River village of Marshall. He said of his home, built in Idaho in 1978:

From the beginning, you could see that the building was made from low-grade products. Mold and mildew are a major problem, and my wife was recently diagnosed with asthma as a result.

– Robert McClure

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