Anchorage Assembly kills Bronson’s $15M request for homeless shelter proposal

By failing to introduce the measure, assembly members prevented Mayor Dave Bronson’s resolution and a competing proposal from moving forward.
Anchorage Assembly members meet on July 13, 2021.
Anchorage Assembly members meet on July 13, 2021.(Jeremy Kashatok // Alaska's News Source)
Published: Jul. 13, 2021 at 10:09 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - By failing to introduce an agenda item containing competing proposals for providing shelter for Anchorage’s unhoused population this winter, Anchorage Assembly members effectively killed both measures during Tuesday’s meeting, sending the new administration back to the drawing board.

Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson’s request for $15 million to move forward on a plan to build a 450-bed homeless shelter and “navigation center” by winter was met with opposition in the form of a substitute resolution introduced by assembly members Meg Zaletel and Forrest Dunbar during the body’s regular meeting Tuesday evening.

The mayor’s resolution requesting the appropriation described the $15 million estimate as funding “phase 1” of the process of standing up the navigation center, a facility aimed at housing people experiencing homelessness and referral services under the same roof.

“Total timeline for construction is 104 days, with a completion date of October 25, 2021 if project is released by July 13,” the resolution read.

The resolution stated “timing is becoming critical” for the city to have sufficient shelter space for Anchorage’s homeless population as winter approaches, and acknowledged the administration last week chose not to go through with the purchase of the former Alaska Club building in Midtown for the purpose of turning it into a homeless shelter.

Dunbar and Zaletel introduced an alternative version of the resolution Tuesday that would have reduced the total appropriation to roughly $6 million. The funds would be for the design and preparation of a smaller shelter, not to exceed 150 beds, and the relocation of the Anchorage Police Department’s evidence storage lot which is currently on the site Bronson has chosen for the navigation center.

“The appropriation for the Site 27 project is not intended to bring a rushed project to completion this year,” the substitute resolution reads. “Rather, it is for initial design and planning, and for moving the evidence lot in preparation for the shelter. This alternative proposal envisions the Administration opening the Alaska Club for admitting 125-150 overnight shelter clients this winter, using other Municipal facilities or short-term leases (FEMA funded). This will get us through the winter without causing the remainder of vulnerable homeless residents to be unsheltered, and will provide for completion of the Site 27 project next summer, in an orderly and thoughtful way, using a portion of the second round of (American Rescue Plan Act) funds.”

Dunbar and Zaletel’s resolution took aim at the cost estimate of Bronson’s plan and the scope of additional expenses that are not yet known.

“Throughout the discussion of Site 27, many issues have arisen that require resolution prior to approving the project as presented,” the resolution states. “As we have learned throughout exploration of Site 27, the Administration’s proposal at $15 million is only for Phase 1 and would not include a navigation center, but only shelter space. A Phase 2 is planned to outfit the facility and provide for navigation, but no firm numbers are provided for these addition expenses.”

Assembly member Crystal Kennedy moved to postpone the item containing both resolutions indefinitely.

“I realize I’m throwing a wrench into the works if you will, but we’ve had quite a few wrenches thrown into the works in these conversations in the last several months in dealing with how we really come to some conclusions toward dealing with homeless sheltering for this coming winter,” Kennedy said.

She said she felt encouraged by conversations that have happened recently but felt the issue needs more time.

“If 50% oppose a plan and 50% support it, we really don’t have a good way forward and I think that really we’re at this verge of really being able to come forward with a more cost effective and efficient and palatable plan,” Kennedy said.

Ultimately, the assembly followed city rules by instead failing to introduce the resolution, preventing it from going forward to a public hearing at the next meeting. In order for that to happen, Kennedy withdrew her motion to postpone.

“My motivation in this is to basically stop the ordinance as it is, or the resolution as it is, from going forward until we have the time to have a better resolution come forward,” she explained. “But in order to do that, procedurally, I need to rescind this motion, basically not move the item at all, and allow it to kind of die a quiet death.”

A motion by assembly member John Weddleton to introduce the agenda item failed, with no one coming forward to second it.

“The mayor had mentioned that he’s obviously a little bit disappointed that we couldn’t move forward and begin the public process on this important conversation,” said Matthew Shuckerow, a spokesperson for Bronson. “However, the mayor and his administration have made it very clear they’re focused on continuing to work together, continuing to work with assembly members. This is just a small setback.”

The assembly did vote to unanimously confirm five of Bronson’s executive appointees Tuesday evening.

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