Sitka resident Victoria Compton, her partner and their two dogs started looking for a place to live months ago, after their landlord decided to sell. As part of Building Solutions, a special series on affordable housing, Compton spoke with KCAW’s Erin McKinstry about the struggle to find housing in her hometown.
VC: My name is Victoria Compton. I am 23. And I currently work for SEARHC.
KCAW: And you grew up in Sitka, right?
VC: I did. My family’s from here and has been here about 50 years.
KCAW: Do they still live here?
VC: No. My grandparents passed away. And after our house sold, my mom moved down to Waitesburg, Washington, to be with her granddaughter. My partner and I left for about seven months but had to come back because it’s Sitka. It’s hard to leave.
KCAW: What do you love about Sitka?
VC: I love everything, honestly. Mostly, you know, the nature aspect of it all. You’ve got the mountains and forests and the ocean and rivers, the boating life, and the people are great too. And I still have close family friends who I consider family that are here. And a lot of people I know are here and so many connections and memories. And then my grandparents are buried here and everything’s just here.
KCAW: And you’ve been searching for housing, right?
VC: Yes, for a very long time.
KCAW: What’s the process been like for you?
VC: It’s been a lot of reaching out, breaking out of comfort zones. And telling yourself that you just reach out to them, even if you don’t know them, just introduce yourself. So it’s been messaging on Facebook, texting numbers that you’re given by other people, calling, going on to the local realtor sites, talking to realtors, going on Zillow, Craigslist, literally anything I can think of. I would start doing Google searches, like rentals in Sitka, pet-friendly rentals in Sitka and looking through the ‘For Sale’ pages, even as far back to see if anything’s still available. And just lots and lots of asking, and you know, being told, oh, we’re moving out of this place, see if they’ll let you in and telling them you know, we’ll put a deposit down now, like we’re really motivated. And it’s been a lot of that, and a lot of dead ends and no response.
KCAW: How does that feel?
VC: It’s really discouraging. It’s just really hard. You know, when you’ve been in a community for so long. And overall, the community is usually like, pretty resourceful and helpful. But when it comes to housing, it’s a, definitely you’re on your own kind of deal. It doesn’t matter who you are. My boyfriend would say, you know, say you’ve been here for a while, and you’re from here, and he would tell people that, and I’m like, it doesn’t matter at this point. Like, it doesn’t matter that my family’s been here, has contributed to the community, it doesn’t matter who I am. If they don’t want you, they don’t want you. If you have a dog, they don’t want you.
KCAW: This is your hometown, and you can’t find a place to live in your hometown. How does that feel?
VC: It’s absolutely heartbreaking. You know, having that reality of potentially being forced out of everything you know, and love. Yeah.
KCAW: Do you worry about that having to leave?
VC: I do. It’s becoming more and more of a reality every day. I don’t like to think about it. But you know, it is a reality that we are thinking about, and we don’t want to, but it’s, yeah, it’s hard. I don’t want to be forced out. I don’t want to leave the people I love. I don’t want to leave my job. It’s a good job. I have good insurance. And especially with the summer coming up the best time of the year to be here. It’s the hardest time to leave, too. And yeah.
KCAW: Do you worry ever about not having a roof over your head, like not having a place at all?
VC: I do. I’m absolutely petrified by the thought of not having somewhere to live. It’s…I can’t imagine what it would be like, and I hope that we don’t end up at that point. And I like to think that there are people who wouldn’t let us get there, but we just don’t know until that happens. And who would really want to take us in if that did happen.
KCAW: What are you looking for in a place to live?
VC: At this point, a roof over our head that we can afford? Dishwasher would be nice, but we’ll take what we can get. And at this point, if it will take us in the dogs, that’s all that matters to us.
KCAW: And you have to be able to have your dogs with you?
VC: Yes, it’s an absolute must. It’s no exception. They’re part of my family. I can’t let them go. You get a really good bond with them, you get a mutual understanding, you get your own language with one another, and you help each other emotionally, physically, it’s a really strong unique love that you get with them.
KCAW: Generally, what would be an affordable rent price for you?
VC: If it’s including utilities, 1500–between 1300 and 1500 is good. If it’s not, including utilities or anything, you know, it’s harder that way, it’s probably around 1300 Because utilities can run really high. And if with that, and all other bills, you’re looking at two grand a month. So somewhere around that general area. Something that, you know, we can both afford splitting it and be able to have a safety net while we do it. This has shown us that anything can happen, no matter where you’re living, if you’re renting, anything can happen. And at any moment in time.
KCAW: And that 1500 ballpark, like, what percentage of your household income is that generally? Do you know?
VC: About 50 percent
KCAW: Wow, that’s a lot.
KCAW: What does that mean for, I guess, other things in your life, that you would have to put half of your income basically, towards housing?
VC: It’s a lot of saving, thinking about what’s important, you know, not splurging on stuff that you like, because we have other bills. I have medical supplies that I have to pay for, that’s something that I’ve been terrified about, too. Because I’m very expensive to keep alive (laughs). Yeah, you learn how to be a really good saver, you know, maybe a trip to see family once a year. My mom, it’s easier for her to come up here because you know where she living cost of living is cheaper, and so she can afford to come see us. So I don’t even know if I’ll be able to go and visit her this year, you know, especially when we’re going to be having to put down deposits again this year, and probably pay another month’s rent where we’re at now and do all this double stuff, it’s highly unlikely that we will really be able to do anything this year and really cut back on a lot of stuff, which we’ve already done.
KCAW: Have you thought about buying a house so that you don’t have to deal with this unpredictability of the rental market?
VC: Yeah, we have. It’s hard right now, because it is 150 percent a seller’s market. You can charge whatever you want, here in general, and then this year, it’s pretty, pretty expensive. We have the application for the Rural Housing Development loan, and that can take three months to a year, depends on if the government has funding to do it, what number in line your application is at, and there’s so many other factors and if we ended up qualifying or not, in meeting those expectations. And then if when we find a house, if it’s up to the standards that the loan requires, which in Sitka, it can be really hard, depending on like foundation, where it’s at, because you know, the Muskeg homes and landslide area homes, you know, you have to find the right one. And then if it’s within the amount of your loan, which a lot of them are not. They’re around 500,000, at least, which even for like a two, three bedroom house, which is quite a bit. So it’s not realistic for the average person, the prices of the homes. At least in our opinion. And we’ve both been at our jobs for just over a year now. And it’s still like buying a house is not in the near future of affordability.
KCAW: Do you think that there’s anything that the city could do to help this problem? Is there anything that you wish that they would do?
VC: I’ve talked to a couple people about this, and it really comes down to the seasonal rentals. There’s so many homes that are seasonal, and that’s something that the city can control is how many there are and what the laws and rules on that can be. I’m not too well-versed in it. But I know that it’s something that other people are trying to get the city to look into and see how problematic seasonal rentals can be. And it’s not like you want to, you know, attack the people who do seasonal rentals but highlight how much of a problem it is when it comes to the benefits of the community.
KCAW: From your perspective, how do you think a lack of affordable housing impacts Sitka and impacts the community?
VC: Well, I guess in terms of community, I think it takes away from the community, people who want to be here and stay here. People who have been here for a while and love the community, it just, it hurts the community when those people are forced out. So like, even my grandparents, you know, having been here 50 years and even when my grandma was in her 70s, she was still doing her B&B a little bit and even she had to scrape by, you know, on her fixed income. It’s not easy. So, and very disproportionate.
Since this interview, Compton and her partner found a place to live. Throughout April and May, KCAW News will be bringing you stories about affordable housing solutions every Friday as part of our “Building Solutions” series. Erin McKinstry is a Report for America corps member.