A photo of a weathered home in the village of Savoonga.

As the 2020 Census begins, rural Alaskans hope the effort will shed light on a pervasive lack of housing in rural Alaska.

Former CEO and President of Bering Straits Regional Housing Authority, Chris Kolerok, shared some troubling statistics: In the region surrounding Nome, the overcrowding rate is 37%. 19% of those homes are classified as severely overcrowded.

“During community meetings we have been confronted with the heart-breaking stories of 21 people sharing a small 3-bedroom home,” Kolerok said.

Census leaders say accurate data could help with planning to reduce overcrowding. Donna Bach, tribal partnership specialist for the census, said overcrowding is an important reason to count all residents.

“It helps inform the issue, to possibly help inform those housing authorities to say ‘we are over capacity, there is a lack of housing, there is a lack of low-income housing that is not meeting the population that we need to build and plan for ten years in advance. So that snapshot in time is extremely informative and important,” Bach said.

“It helps inform the issue, to possibly help inform those housing authorities to say ‘we are over capacity, there is a lack of housing, there is a lack of low-income housing that is not meeting the population that we need to build and plan for ten years in advance. So that snapshot in time is extremely informative and important,” Bach said.

Image at top: A weathered home in Savoonga, a community that hosted a housing conference last year.