Anchorage mayor’s office details CARES Act funding, homeless services ordinance in virtual town hall Wednesday

Virtual event focused on controversial Assembly ordinance surrounding purchase of local buildings to use as homeless shelters, treatment centers
Undated shot of Anchorage, Alaska.
Undated shot of Anchorage, Alaska.(KTUU)
Published: Aug. 5, 2020 at 5:34 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Watch the replay of the virtual event by going to www.muni.og/AO66 or by heading to the mayor’s Facebook page here.

A virtual town hall, hosted by officials from the office of Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz Wednesday, shed more light on federal funding within the Municipality of Anchorage as well as a controversial Anchorage Assembly ordinance expected to be up for vote this coming Tuesday.

Several members of Berkowitz’s administration - including Chief of Staff Jason Bockenstedt; Chris Schutte, Office of Economic and Community Development Director; Nancy Burke, Housing and Homeless Services Coordinator; Robin Ward, Real Estate Department Director; and Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness Executive Director Jasmine Boyle - both presented information and took questions from the public at the event on Wednesday evening. The mayor was not in attendance.

Regarding CARES Act funding, every state received no less than $1.25 billion dollars, which was the amount allotted to Alaska. The Municipality of Anchorage will receive a total of at least $156 million made in three payments; almost $117 million of that has already been dispersed through a single payment, according to documents from the Anchorage Assembly. However, while two additional payments of about $20 million await, the municipality must spend at least 80 percent of the prior payment, Bockenstedt said, before those payments can be made.

“One thing to understand about the CARES Act as it’s currently written,” he said, is also that “all of these funds have to be spent by Dec. 30 of 2020, or they have to be returned to the federal government. So that’s one piece to keep in mind.

“There is a lot of money that will be flowing into a lot of these different areas in the near future,” he added. “A lot of this money is going to start getting into the community relatively quickly.”

The municipality and Anchorage Assembly have already authorized and begun to put out $6 million in small business and non-profit relief; $3 million in rental and mortgage assistance funding; $10 million in child care relief dollars; $3 million for public lands jobs programming; and set aside $1.5 million in a contingency fund, totaling about $23.5 million in approvals thus far. Bockenstedt said that a new CARES Act package will be presented at the next Anchorage Assembly meeting, with several of the above listed categories potentially being funded further.

As for the ordinance - specifically, AO 2020-66 - it would potentially authorize the Municipality of Anchorage to potentially purchase four different properties that would be used to help address substance abuse and homelessness in Anchorage. According to the proposal, the four properties would serve as treatment centers, shelters, or a combination of the two.

The ordinance itself has garnered mixed reaction not only from the public but from the Assembly itself.

“A big part of what happened with this, is information did not get out to people right at the beginning,” said Anchorage Assembly Member John Weddleton. “We have one shot to do it really well and do it right. And it can be done, but if we do this poorly, don’t do this right, then we’re in trouble.”

Anchorage Assembly Member Crystal Kennedy said that while she also supports helping the homeless, the current ordinance doesn't quite cute it.

“We need to see what we can do to wrestle with this homelessness problem,” she said, “but there’s got to be real, tangible ways to do that, that is not only operational but is also sustainable.”

The last Assembly meeting surrounding the ordinance was continued, so that discussion will be picked up again at the next regular meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 11. A vote is also expected that evening, though it could be postponed once more, depending on how the meeting goes.

You can watch the replay of the hour-and-a-half-long virtual event by going to www.muni.og/AO66, or simply watch by heading to the mayor’s Facebook page by clicking here.

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