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Newtok Planning Group

Mertarvik Housing

Critical to the success of the relocation to Mertarvik is the Newtok community's ability to secure funding for the construction of new homes or the relocation of existing homes. The current village of Newtok contains 78 occupied housing units.  A structural survey of homes in 2014 found that 12 homes in the village have the structural integrity to be moved, however the remaining homes in Newtok are in poor to very poor condition. Nearly all of the homes are twenty-five years old or greater. The population at Newtok is young and growing and overcrowding in existing homes is an issue. Housing is currently the single limiting factor to the Newtok community moving to Mertarvik.

To date, a local work force of village residents has built seven homes at Mertarvik:

  • The first three homes were acquired through Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Housing Improvement Program (HIP) grants in 2006 and constructed in 2007.
  • In 2011, Newtok received grants for three additional homes through the Association of Village Council Presidents (AVCP) Regional Housing Authority through HUD's Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act (NAHASDA) Program.  The community decided to purchase Structural Insulated Panel (SIP) home packages.  Members of the community received training on constructing with SIP panels and the homes were built over the summer of 2012.
  • The seventh home is a prototype house designed by the Cold Climate Housing Research Center (CCHRC), funded by a BIA HIP grant.  The prototype house is both extremely energy efficient and moveable. The house has a skiddable foundation and can be towed across the ice or tundra when needed. It contains a small water-treatment plant and a generator, which can be used before public utilities are available at the new site. Construction of the prototype is being completed in summer 2016, using CCHRC instructors and a local crew (see photos below).

Mertarvik Housing Master Plan

Housing Master Plan Documents

In 2016, Newtok Village Council (NVC) asked the Association of Village Council Presidents Regional Housing Authority (AVCP RHA) to provide technical assistance in the development of a Surface Affordable Housing Master Plan for the planning and development of permanent affordable housing at Mertarvik. The Mertarvik Housing Master Plan, completed February 10, 2017 by CCHRC, addresses the short-term and long-term housing and infrastructure needs of the Newtok community at Mertarvik. The Master Plan addresses the need for a phased approach to housing and services at multiple scales, focusing on both the design standards of the individual home and collaboration with agencies on community-wide infrastructure. It also addresses the overcrowding issues of the current village site and the need for additional housing for young families, who left the village due to lack of housing, but wish to return to the village. The plan addresses the very real possibility that a disaster will occur at the old village site before the entire community moves to Mertarvik, and provides guidance on how to plan disaster-relief housing in such a way that it can meet permanent housing needs for the community.   

2016 CCHRC Demonstration Home Photos

Rendering of Mertarvik Demonstration Home.  Drawing: CCHRC

Truss system of Demonstration Home.  Photo: CCHRC

Demonstration Home Building Crew.  Photo: CCHRC

Mertarvik Demonstration Home.  Photo: CCHRC

2012 SIP Home Photos

Building the new SIP homes in 2012.  Photo: Jeffery Charles

Building the new SIP homes. Photo: Jeffery Charles

A nearly completed home.  Photo: Jeffery Charles

2007 First Homes Built at Mertarvik Photos

Off-loading BIA HIP housing packages from the barge.  Photo: Stanley Tom

Residents from Newtok building the homes.  Photo: Stanley Tom

The first three homes at Mertarvik.  Photo: Sally Russell Cox

Other Mertarvik Housing Efforts

Twelve-Home Relocation Project

In November 2013, Newtok was part of a Presidentially-Declared Disaster, DR-4162, that impacted Alaska's west coast. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and  Emergency Management (DHS&EM) personnel traveled to Newtok to inventory damages from the storm.  In discussions with members of the Newtok Planning Group (NPG), it was determined that the most effective mitigation action for Newtok would be to help community members move to Mertarvik.  Because residents critically need homes to move to Mertarvik, the focus of assistance was on housing.

FEMA administers the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) to help communities implement hazard mitigation measures following a Presidentially-Declared Disaster. The HMPG is authorized under Section 404 of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act.  HMGP funds become available to states in which Presidential Disaster Declarations are made.  In order for a local government (city or tribe) to qualify for HMGP funds, it must have a FEMA-approved Local Hazard Mitigation Plan (LHMP).  Because Newtok has an approved LHMP, the community was eligible to apply for an HMGP grant. DHS&EM and other members of the NPG spoke with the Newtok Village Council about the possibility of an HMGP application, which DHS&EM offered to prepare on behalf to of the NVC.

In September 2014, State personnel, a structural engineer and a public adjuster travelled to Newtok to meet with the community on the HMGP application and to conduct a survey of homes to determine which homes might be structurally sound to be relocated to Mertarvik. It was determined that 12 homes had the structural integrity to be relocated.  The NVC considered the option of relocating homes versus acquiring homes (also known as a "buy-out"; FEMA would purchase homes from individuals at fair market value and the homeowners could apply the funds to a new home).  The results of the structural survey and cost-benefit analysis indicated that it would be more cost-effective to relocate homes than to do a buy-out because FEMA requires acquired homes to be demolished and the debris removed to a certified landfill.  The NVC chose to pursue relocation of the 12 structurally-sound homes, with a back-up application to acquire another 5 non-structurally sound homes if funds remained after the 12-home relocation. 

DHS&EM developed the HMGP application from September 2014 to July 2015, when it was submitted to FEMA.  In early October 2015, FEMA began the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Environmental Scoping process for the project.  Shortly after this, FEMA awarded the first phase of the grant to DHS&EM, which allowed for the recovery of pre-award costs and the hiring of a contractor to carry out the design and engineering of the project. The public comment period for the Environmental Assessment Scoping was held from March 25, 2016 to April 25, 2016.  A public meeting was held in Newtok on April 5, 2016 and in Anchorage with the NPG on April 11, 2016.  The Environmental Assessment Scoping Summary provides an overview of the process. 

For more information contact:

Sally Russell Cox

Division of Community and Regional Affairs
Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development
550 West 7th Avenue, Suite 1640
Anchorage, AK 99501
Phone: (907) 269-4588 FAX: (907) 269-4066