Searching for Home

Words by Willow Kristeller
Illustration by Carlee Christensen

Many phrases try to reconcile the feeling of home and how one finds such a place. Classics like, “A house is not a home,” “Home is where the heart is,” or even “A home is where you hang your hat.”However, finding a home has become increasingly difficult in recent years, especially for the generation entering the workforce in the 2020s. 

In Alaska, the reality of finding an affordable home is quite bleak. To explain this, let’s start by doing simple research and math. The minimum wage in Alaska, as of January 1st, 2024, is $11.73 an hour, which is one of the lowest hourly wages in the country. Additionally, the average hourly wage of an entry-level position for a person with a college degree is $18.75. So, if we imagine that there are two people, one of them works 40 hours a week at a minimum wage job. The other works 40 hours a week at an entry-level job. The first person on average makes $1,876 per month. The second person makes about $3000 per month.  

Now let’s look at the average cost of living in Alaska concerning housing. In  Anchorage, the median cost of rent for a single-person home is $1,172 per month. Juneau and Fairbanks are a bit more expensive at $1,257 and $1,246 respectively. For person 1, rent alone would be 62.47%  of their monthly income. Leaving only 37.53% of their monthly income for other expenses like utilities, food, car insurance, health insurance, and other necessities. For person 2, rent would come out to 39.07% of their monthly income leaving 60.93% for other expenses. From these figures alone, we can see that the average jobs that young people have are nowhere near eligible to sustain independence and autonomy concerning housing. Not to mention, in these financial situations, the workforce would spend so much of their income on rent that they would not be able to save up money to someday buy a home. That’s  supposed to be the American dream, right?

In addition to cost alone, other factors contribute to a housing crisis for not only the newest generation of the workforce, but also people who have been renting for years. Combined factors of housing scarcity, high cost of materials, and limited space that is only getting smaller make finding suitable housing in not only the Anchorage area but throughout Alaska, extremely difficult. 

To decipher the strategies that soon-to-be college graduates or members of the workforce are using to secure a home for themselves. Three soon-to-be college graduates and a member of the Anchorage workforce spoke to me about their plans moving forward

Tiernan Brenner-Gelvin: 

UAA senior, Tiernan Brenner-Gelvin is planning to graduate from the university in May 2024. She has worked as a residential adviser for UAA Residence Life for the past four years. 

She has been in the position longer than any of her coworkers, partly because she loves the work, and partly because it was the only way that she could afford to pay for school. As an RA, her  housing is entirely free. She explained how difficult it has been for her to find a place after graduation. 

“I have been looking at places in town, but I can’t find anyone to live with,” said Brenner-Gelvin.

“So it’s either I live with a stranger as a roommate or I move back to Fairbanks to live with my mom. I definitely cannot afford to live on my own right now.”

Brenner-Gelvin’s story is a common one, many students choose to live with people they met in college when they move on to joining the workforce. However, it has been hard for Brenner-Gelvin to find someone because so many of her friends are moving back home to live with their parents. 

Katie Scoggin

Fellow UAA Senior Katie Scoggin, who is graduating with a degree in political science with minors in Spanish and legal studies, is one of  those people choosing to move back home after graduation. “I contemplated looking for an apartment with some of my friends and current roommates, but that was short-lived,” said Scoggin.

“I know it’s probably in my best interest to save up and live with my parents. Especially considering how costly an alternative housing arrangement would be for me.” 

Scoggin is planning on moving home for a year to work and travel, before moving on to graduate school. 

Many of the students I spoke with have decided to  return home after graduation because it is the best option for them financially. Due to high housing costs coupled with other financial strains and low wages, is it any wonder that so many students are choosing not to “fly the nest”?

Riley Fugere

Another UAA student who is planning to move back home after graduation is senior Riley Fugere. Fugere is graduating in May 2024 with a Bachelor’s of Kinesiology. Fugere says that the best plan for him financially is to move back home to Eagle River and work as an exercise physiologist to save money until it is the right time for him to move.

“The future holds so much uncertainty for me, but I like that. Part of me wants to try teaching English abroad for a year or two through one of the many English teaching programs, but I am also looking to move to the West Coast and start a new life there. Like I said, I don’t really have a set plan. I am just going with the flow right now waiting for the right time and opportunity to start the next chapter of my life.”

BriAnn Young

Housing isn’t just an issue for current graduates, it’s still top of mind years later. BriAnn Young graduated from UAA in 2021 with a degree in international studies and Spanish. 

Young works as the manager of Clothesline Consignment here in Anchorage. She also is a nanny for families around the city, for  around 20-25 hours a week, as well as regularly house/pet sitting in the area. Young explained how she has been managing this issue in her own way.

“Well, I have lived with my parents my whole life, except for one year when I moved in with a friend into an apartment,” Young said. 

“However, during Covid, I moved back in with my parents in an attempt to save money.” 

I asked Young why she continues to live with her parents even though she graduated from college 3 years ago. 

“Both my sister and I live with our parents, however, we aren’t there most of the time. I am constantly house-sitting or dog-sitting at other people’s homes so I can make extra money; my parent’s house is just the place where I keep all of my stuff.” 

Young also explained all of the ways that she financially supports herself.

“In addition to house sitting, I also work full-time as the manager of a consignment store. As well as nannying for different families around town. I nanny locally, and sometimes I travel with the families to nanny for them when they go on vacation or have a family obligation.”

When I asked Young why she hadn’t moved out of her parents’ house, she explained her stance on renting in Anchorage.

“I just have no interest in renting in Anchorage. It’s really expensive and the places you can live are usually nowhere near worth what you are paying for them. So I still live at home and house-sit all the time so that I can save up money to buy a house. That is my current focus, is saving up enough money to buy a home here for myself,” she said.

“Buying a home for yourself is a much better financial decision than renting a house because you can build your credit, and have an asset to use if you wanted to purchase a different home or start a business.”

The reality of finding a home in Anchorage is stark when you see all of the ways that young people are having to avoid the “norm” just in order to financially survive. We have all been told that after college should be the time that you move out on your own and start living your life as a completely independent adult. However, if no one can afford to do that, will our growth in young adulthood be stunted? Or will we simply create new norms of what adulthood looks like? 

True North Magazine

True North is a publication of the University of Alaska Anchorage Department of Journalism and Public Communications. It has been published since 1995.