Valley Residential Services (VRS) CEO John Weaver works to help address Alaskans’ housing needs in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley as well as other regions. Under his leadership, VRS has overseen the construction of housing units to help approximately 2,000 Alaskans settle into stable housing.
Weaver was recently recognized for his work when he won the Mat-Su Health Foundation’s Bert Hall Award for Commitment to the Health of the Community. He discusses his efforts to establish stable housing for Alaskans in this Q&A.
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State of Reform: Could you describe your background with the Mat-Su Health Foundation, and how you began working with members to address Mat-Su health concerns?
John Weaver: “I started working with Mat-Su Health in 2006 when I took the job with VRS. Our mission is to develop and operate housing in the Mat-Su area. We are invested in helping seniors, people with behavioral health issues, disabilities, and those with low incomes.
The theory is that healthy living begins with a safe environment and the security of knowing they have a home to go to each night. The uncertainty of someone who doesn’t have direction or a safe haven is problematic. Giving them the confidence in having a safe, clean housing environment to go to relieves a lot of stress from their life.”
SOR: VRS has helped address homelessness in the Mat-Su area by building housing units, and now manages 400 units, with 82 more currently under development. You also recently helped lead an effort to open 40 housing units on the Wasilla Area Senior campus. Can you discuss your motivation in helping Alaskans acquire stable housing? Is there a specific population group (those with behavioral health or substance abuse issues, for example) that you focus on assisting?
JW: “The homeless issue is simply one element of what VRS does. We have so many varied programs with different silos or categories. There is the disability category; we work with different organizations to provide life support for people with developmental and behavioral health needs. We give them a home and if they need life skills or a social worker to assist, we work with agencies to get them services for independent living.
With the homeless issue, maybe they’re living in a car or have been evicted a number of times and have a hard time finding a place because of their track record. We help them get their feet on the ground. We work with homeless agencies to get them a place, which is important especially in the cold Alaska winters.
Senior housing has been the biggest growth area because of the [large] number of baby boomers. Every day there’s a large number of individuals turning 55 or 65 and there’s not enough housing to meet those needs.”
SOR: Why is the development of supportive housing so important in the Mat-Su area?
JW: “There’s more demand than there is housing to accommodate that. We currently have 415 individuals on our wait list for housing. Mat-Su is also one of the fastest growing areas in the nation.”
SOR: You also work with First Presbyterian Church to provide supportive housing in Anchorage. Can you discuss some of those efforts?
JW: “Anchorage has a huge homeless issue. It’s the largest in the state. Through work at the church, we’re helping to provide a housing facility in downtown Anchorage. We’re working with the city, the Rasmuson Foundation, and Providence Hospital to provide funding for folks who are without housing. We’re working on a 129-unit apartment building in downtown Anchorage to accommodate that need.”
SOR: What type of initiatives or projects do you see VRS working on in the future to help improve the health and wellness of Alaskans?
JW: “We will continue to look at the data to show where [population] increases will be over the next 5-10 years to assist in developing the areas we’re seeing need the most attention in independent, supportive, and senior housing. Those are the biggest areas [to focus on]. And, frankly, when you [consider] family housing, rent increased 14% in Anchorage last year. So people are in a pinch. We need inventory to provide them as affordable a housing unit as possible.”
This Q&A was edited for clarity and length.