On Wednesday of this week, I had the delightful opportunity to meet and visit with a very inspirational woman, Carol Gore.  Carol is the President / CEO of Cook Inlet Housing Authority (CIHA) in Anchorage.

Carol shared with me her experience growing up as an Alaska Native of Aleut descent.  Her mom taught her that “everyone is essential and everyone matters”.  This philosophy applies directly to the work of CIHA and their community development approach is what makes their housing communities strong, thus helping to make Anchorage a better city, one person, one community at a time.

CIHA was founded in 1974 with a primary focus of development, operation, and preservation of affordable housing for low and moderate income families.  Over the years, they have become quite adept at assessing local housing conditions and evaluating funding opportunities, then advancing developments that are both responsive to community needs and financially viable.

Looking not only to provide affordable housing, but also to provide a high quality of life to their residents, Carol shared the following:

“By treating people who are struggling as though they have value and potential, we are often able to help them recognize their own inherent worth.  In that way, we can inspire individuals and families to find their own way to dignified, self-sufficient futures.”

One can find the work of CIHA in various neighborhoods around the city of Anchorage.  Carol and I visited a couple of their newer communities and toured a few of their residences.  For example, there is the Loussac Place, (West 20th Avenue); Centennial Village, (Muldoon Rd. & Glenn Hwy.);  Mountain View Village, and 3600 Spenard Location, near their main offices, and Creekview Plaza, to name a few.

They work hard in each new building to create an environment for elders and seniors that is safe, affordable, and oriented to building community. High occupancy rates (without overcrowding) and low turnover helps to create and sustain a stable sense of community.  Another very interesting and compelling component of the work of CIHA is their commitment to set aside a percentage of units to transition homeless people to a residence.  CIHA is succeeding in their efforts to provide housing opportunities which give people ‘on the margins’ that little extra boost they need to gain a stable footing for themselves or their family that allows them to live in a humanly dignified manner.

CIHA works not only for the rehabilitation of older neighborhoods, respecting the history, but also is willing to work with other organizations, utilizing and stimulating a synergy that allows each group to bring their expertise and resources together to accomplish things together that none could do alone.  Housing communities are built in locations with close access to the basic necessities, such as schools, retail, and medical providers.  Simple architectural features encourage community, such as a small yard, or porch, gardens for flowers or vegetables, inside gathering spaces and fitness areas.  It does not hurt that many of their locations have incredible views of the mountains!

These community developments are dedicated to build in a manner that also respects the environment. CIHA has close ties with and commitment to the Native Alaskan people, and their values come through loud and clear in the work of this organization.  For instance, one of their recent developments is the Creekview Plaza 49, which offers independent senior rental housing for residents aged 55 years and older, with low- and modest-household incomes. Located off of Muldoon Road and DeBarr Road, Creekview Plaza 49 is part of the Creekside Town Center, which offers neighborhood residents easy walkability to retail and services and a convenient location with a view of Chester Creek and the Chugach Mountains.

Part of this project was the rehabilitation of Chester Creek.  Before Anchorage was built in 1914, the local indigenous people that lived here were the Dena’ina, and their name for this creek was Chanshtnu, or Grass Creek, which became known as Chester Creek.   Originally this area consisted of forest, peat bogs, wetlands and glacial deposits.  With the growth of Anchorage, much of the creek had been enclosed in underground drainage.  Today, it has been restored to an above ground stream, with natural vegetation, fish and wildlife providing an asthetic beauty for the local community and population to enjoy!  CIHA was just one of several entities that worked with the Anchorage Municipality on this restoration project.

Along with their respect for the environment, the new construction consists of solar energy, geothermal technology and energy efficient construction.  Attention to such details, as well as an overarching philosophy is geared to respect individuals in a manner that helps them discover a greater quality of life for self, while at the same time helping create better neighborhoods for everyone.

CIHA’s mission is “to provide housing opportunities that empower our people and build our community.” In taking such a bold approach to serve everyone they are providing more housing opportunities to build self-sufficiency and offer a hand-up into housing.  This allows CIHA to provide housing that is not stigmatized by race, ethnicity or income while providing housing opportunities that are diverse and scattered in neighborhoods that offer jobs, transportation and schools.

I found this tour very insightful and encouraging to learn that some very good organizations are working hard to benefit low income people and families.  As our visit came to a conclusion (for this day) I found myself thinking that there are probably some areas where the work of CIHA and the work of our Catholic Social Services could easily create some additional synergy of cooperation to provide other resources and services for the benefit of some of our brothers and sisters who are in need in our home town of Anchorage.