Cook Inlet Housing Authority

Funding Received: 2015
Anchorage, AK

This is one of six organizations participating in the Community Development Investments (CDI) program.  For more information about the program itself, click here.

Cook Inlet Housing Authority (CIHA) is a regional native housing authority established by the State of Alaska in 1974. Our mission is to create housing opportunities that empower our people and build our community by using housing as a tool for broader community development outcomes.  Our approach of strategically developing a variety of housing investments creates powerful changes in our communities, stabilizing families and neighborhoods, catalyzing reinvestment, and empowering people to change their own lives. 

CIHA is exploring how collaboration with artists and the use of creative strategies can help to achieve our community development goals. Our artist partners have helped us approach our work from new and interesting angles, using creative tactics that encourage us to invite community members whose voices may not normally be heard, into the conversation to be part of the exploration of problem solving. 

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All of Alaska is Indian Country. The Dena’ina people originally inhabited the lands of southcentral Alaska, this region includes the site where Anchorage was settled by western pioneers.  Cook Inlet Housing Authority (CIHA) is a regional native housing authority established by the State of Alaska in 1974. We are funded in large part by the Native American Housing and Self Determination Act (NAHASDA).  As an innovator in Indian Housing, we provide housing opportunities for eligible Alaska Native/Native Americans and everyone else in our community. By intentionally choosing to serve everyone in the community we serve more Alaska Native/Native Americans through leveraged finances and build an inclusive community. Our mission is to create housing opportunities that empower our people and build our community by using housing as a tool for broader community development outcomes.  Our approach of strategically developing a variety of housing investments creates powerful changes in our communities, stabilizing families and neighborhoods, catalyzing reinvestment, and empowering people to change their own lives.

As a guiding principal in our neighborhood redevelopment work, CIHA has adopted the model and values of an Alaskan village. In Native Alaskan culture, each person is essential and brings capacity to the entire village. Everyone adds value and helps make the village successful. It’s a model that embraces sharing what you have with others in order to make the collective village stronger.  As CIHA works in our role as a community developer, we keep these village values at the forefront of our decision making process.

Our dedicated staff of 140 is passionate about community building at all scales and phases of affordable housing work -- from the conceptual stage of a project to the on-going operations of a 1,400 unit (and growing) portfolio. Currently, we house almost 3,000 Alaskans by developing, building, and owning affordable housing.  We also engage in outreach and education, at all levels of government, in order to create favorable conditions for the development and financing of affordable housing.

Cook Inlet Housing has evolved over its forty-four year history from spending down HUD funding annually to leveraging a multitude of funding sources and building resources, reserves and partnerships that allow for continued, strategic investments to further affordable housing.   Through this approach CIHA has transitioned from a provider of solely senior housing, to a developer that provides a more diverse range of housing to meet community needs.  Most importantly, as a visionary organization that serves all eligible Alaskans with a variety of housing opportunities, we have leveraged Indian Housing funding with other sources of funding, to multiply our development capacity, allowing us to house more Alaska Native and Native American families and elders as a result of this increased capacity and investment.


CIHA hosted a community forum to kick-off the CDI program in October 2015.  Click here to view the program from the event and you can watch the video below.




CIHA works to provide affordable housing in the Cook Inlet region of Southcentral Alaska. Our reach and coverage is over a large geographic region (roughly the size of Pennsylvania), but our work takes place where it matters most – at the neighborhood level. Working with neighborhoods and communities to identify their greatest needs and desires and finding the right opportunities for sensible and sustainable development.

Anchorage is a young city, but like many boom towns, early development lacked intentional planning. Neighborhoods that were built in the early days of pioneering settlers, consisting of quaint cabins and small homes, quickly became overrun by the need for more housing during the building of the Alaskan pipeline. In the haste of developing to accommodate the boom, poorly built multifamily housing was added to original neighborhoods, infrastructure lagged behind and the character and feel of entire neighborhoods shifted into something unrecognizable.

Each neighborhood where CIHA does work  has its own unique set of assets, challenges and deficiencies. In all cases, CIHA is faced with the incredibly high cost of building in Alaska, from materials and labor to inadequate infrastructure. These costs make it incredibly challenging to develop affordable housing options in Alaska.

Although our true service region is large, most of our work takes place in Anchorage, which is a both a state hub and a global village. Anchorage is home to 40% of the state’s population, and is a place of tremendous diversity. Represented are a wide variety of Alaska Native villages and tribes, as well as many groups of new Americans arriving as refugees from their home countries.  Demographics in Anchorage are changing rapidly. Many of these diverse minorities are over represented in low income households.  CIHA works to remain flexible in meeting the changing needs of the community, though it has been and remains challenging to engage marginalized community members and stakeholders. We think some of the solution to this engagement challenge may be solved through collaboration with artists and creatives, who can help us find more effective ways to invite diverse community members to participate in these important conversations.

CIHA is exploring how collaboration with artists and the use of creative strategies can help to achieve our community development goals. Our artist partners have helped us approach our work from new and interesting angles, using creative tactics that encourage us to invite community members whose voices may not normally be heard, into the conversation to be part of the exploration of problem solving. We believe that the arts, artists and creatives can and should play a significant role in community engagement and community expression. This includes pushing innovation, creative placemaking, identifying and amplifying cultural assets, and celebrating local history and Alaska Native culture.

CIHA’s work with the arts and culture sector has taken us down a variety of paths, from community conversations about micro unit apartments to business disruption mitigation due to a road construction project. As result of infusing arts and culture into the way we work, we have changed and challenged our internal learning process to allow for better community engagement opportunities. We have also adapted our external role within the community to better address community challenges.   

Collaborating with artists in community development work forces us to better articulate and frame our challenges in a way that engages non-developers and helps create teams that are invested in positive, feasible outcomes.  Our aim is to find the sweet spot for artists to creatively address those challenges with us.

When we have been able to partner the right artist with the right community challenge, we have learned more than our initial scope set out to accomplish.

Living Big, Living Small

In the case of examining the challenge of micro unit apartments, we teamed with local set designer/artist Sheila Wyne to build a life sized “set” that mimicked a 286 SF micro unit apartment. Sheila created a kit of moveable furniture and appliances, and a system of temporary wall structures that could be configured in the space to model a variety of floorplans. The project was dubbed ‘Living Big, Living Small’ to reflect the shift from looking at designs in 2D on paper to full scale model, while examining small space living. Sheila worked with the in-house CIHA construction crew to build the pieces and parts for the set. We collaborated with other consultants to create a list of stakeholders to invite to play in the set to create the best layout possible. A total of 16 stakeholder groups ranging from professionals, to homeless teens, to CIHA frontline and operations staff members, to a group of local creatives participated in two hour build sessions.

While we thought we were creating a space for layout design discussion, we realized after the first group participated that this exercise was uncovering much more. Our post-exercise debriefs with each group allowed for broad and open discussion about community, including who might live in a small apartment, where would they make the most sense in our community, and what other amenities might need to be present in a neighborhood to support smaller living. The participants envisioned this housing for themselves, their parents, their children, their neighbors – a real person with housing needs and not simply a person who lived in “subsidized housing”.  For many participants, the exercise truly showed that you could fit a lot of amenities comfortably into a small footprint. For others, it was an opportunity to think about and discuss broader community needs.  And fundamentally for CIHA staff, Board, and designers – our eyes were opened to new housing approaches and unit sizes that could reach a deeper level of affordability.

Living Big, Living Small from Cook Inlet Housing on Vimeo.

Mysterious mimes

Road projects are always controversial in Anchorage; poor engagement, design, and implementation had stalled the needed improvement on Spenard Road for ten years.  As members on the local business association, we knew local businesses saw the pending road project as a threat to their livelihood.  On the other hand, we also believed that the right investment would help correct aging and inefficient infrastructure, non-existent pedestrian and bus facilities, and support the need for new housing investment. 

Through many conversations with two local performance artists, Enzina Marrari and Becky Kendall, a common point of interest was found from which the artists were able to create a powerful artistic intervention. Enzina and Becky created an interactive spectacle which grew as the construction project grew from spring to summer. MIME SPENARD began stealthily and mysteriously with a small number of participants but culminated in a chance for everyone to join MIME Day.  Becky and Enzina worked with business owners to have mimes present at their businesses and used social media to promote their locations. Mime training days took place so that what began as a small troupe of mimes swelled to 100 mimes by MIME Day.  Media outlets picked up on the presence of mimes, but the artists were coy and quiet on the full story, focusing only on getting the word out that businesses were still open during road construction. The full reveal was part of a weekly newspaper cover story featuring the lead mime Brian Hutton.

Again, the outcomes from the collaboration between CIHA and the artists exceeded our original scope and intention. The event generated good will with business owners and community conversation about Spenard. Becky and Enzina’s organizing around MIME SPENARD created a more compassionate understanding between those advocating for the road project and the local business owners that would be most directly affected.  Additional conversations continue as we examine how we approach future road projects and how to better involve the community, artists/creatives and particularly the businesses early in the process to further strengthen the potential impact that these types of interventions can have on both the bottom line and willingness of businesses to support critical road work.  

The Mime Spenard Project from Cook Inlet Housing on Vimeo.

Reclaiming Asphalt project

Challenged to think about CIHA’s Spenard Road real estate assets as an opportunity to provide a more welcoming place, focused more on people and less on cars, CIHA collaborated with artist Chad Taylor on the Reclaiming Asphalt I & II projects.

The projects consisted of several installations around the block where CIHA owns contiguous properties along Spenard Road: an old post office, an old church, and our office headquarters.  Chad worked with a cadre of artists to create a welcoming semi-public plaza, recycled planters that add a needed dose of green are moved in ever-changing patterns, an interactive messaging wall, and the creative deconstruction of fencing between lots to begin to envision the previously disparate properties as a vibrant campus that is connected physically and programmatically.  We also challenged the artists to use this opportunity to demonstrate better sidewalk widths than the deficient and dangerous 3 foot pathways which currently exist, which they accomplished through a colorful, horizontal mural that depicted 5-foot, 8-foot and 10-foot wide sidewalks. The project also includes vertical installations that celebrate the neighborhood’s historic importance as Dena’ina land as well as its more recent, not so glorious past as a strip-club and massage parlor destination.

The community has responded enthusiastically on what the campus could be –with the former church transformed into a cultural community hub, a collection of strong local businesses, and a place that sees improvements to the streetscape that is intentional and reflective of the people who live here. 

Overall, all of these experiments and experiences have shown us that engaging artists and creatives to help solve community challenges, is a powerful tool for successful community engagement and community development.

Reclaiming Asphalt from Cook Inlet Housing on Vimeo.


See below for recent updates, press, and events from this project

Jul 5, 2020
Cook Inlet Housing Authority serves about 600 Alaska seniors in independent living situations in CIHA buildings. Most are in Anchorage, at Centennial Village and other... Read More
May 6, 2020
A deeper look at the lessons one housing organization learned after receiving a multimillion grant to integrate arts and culture strategies in its work. Has... Read More
Nov 13, 2018
During the unveiling, live music and dancers surrounded the artwork to bring life to the piece. Woodfalls is a temporary and biodegradable sculptural installation made... Read More
Sep 6, 2017
When it is finished, Susan Share's light sculpture installation on the facade of 3400 Spenard Road will be a glowing pastiche of Spenardalia. Read More
Aug 11, 2017
On June 8 a peculiar thing happened in Spenard – peculiar even by Spenard standards. Read More
Aug 8, 2017
On a recent cloudy afternoon, David Parrish yanked weeds from a patch of dirt where he’s been growing strawberries. Read More
Jul 18, 2017
Rasmuson Foundation directors approved awards for 18 organizations totaling more than $8.6 million at their June 28 board meeting. This is one of the largest... Read More
Jun 28, 2017
An affordable housing project in East Anchorage is on its way to expanding. Cook Inlet Housing Authority plans to begin construction on the $14 million... Read More
Jun 1, 2017
Alaska is a bastion for renewable and alternative energy sources statewide, and 2017 is set to meet or even surpass last year in terms of... Read More
Mar 27, 2017
Spenard Road has always attracted an off-kilter attitude to match its meandering path. In the city grid, Spenard stands out. Read More
ArtPlace America’s Community Development Investments (CDI) program provides funding and technical assistance to community development organizations who haven’t previously had a significant history of working... Read More
Apr 13, 2016
Before the demolition of a former peep show theater on Spenard Road, artists are taking over the building for their own positive and ambivalent expressions... Read More
Mar 1, 2016
Under Carol Gore’s leadership the Cook Inlet Housing Authority (CIHA) has made significant advances in providing quality, affordable housing for residents of Southcentral Alaska. Gore,... Read More
We were thrilled with the turnout at our ArtPlace kickoff event. We saw a lot of new faces in the crowd—we weren’t just preaching to... Read More
Nov 9, 2015
Investing in neighborhood revitalization in Anchorage. ArtPlace America’s announcement of its $3 million investment in the Cook Inlet Housing Authority (CIHA), a tribal housing authority... Read More
Sep 1, 2015
President Barack Obama hosted a roundtable discussion with members of his administration and Alaska tribal leaders at the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center in Anchorage,... Read More
Aug 30, 2015
President Barack Obama may be traveling into unfriendly political territory as he heads north to Alaska Monday, but he has been slowly paving the way... Read More
ArtPlace partner PolicyLink recently released Working with Artists to Deepen Impact, the first in a series of briefs describing the changes seen and lessons learned...Read more
On a weekday morning earlier this summer, Anchorage artist Sheila Wyne and writer Bruce Farnsworth pushed box after box into an area with four wood...Read more
At this year’s ArtPlace Summit, we talked often about tapping into the authentic identities of our individual communities as part of our creative placemaking work...Read more
Over the first three weeks of October, the participating organizations of the Community Development Investments will hold community forums to introduce this program to local...Read more
Today we announced an $18 million investment in six place-based organizations around the country to incorporate arts & culture into their community development work. In...Read more
We are now almost six months into the Community Development Investments program and our six community planning and development organizations have been hard at work...Read more
ArtPlace is pleased to announce the 21 finalist organizations for the new Community Development Investments (CDI) program! In August of 2015 we will fund one...Read more
It’s not often that you get to spend a month on the road with your coworkers! During October, Jamie B, Prentice, and I shared many...Read more