Anchorage commissioner’s ‘appalling and racist’ comment draws response from mayor, Assembly

Anchorage commissioner’s ‘appalling and racist’ comment draws response from mayor, Assembly
Published: Mar. 3, 2023 at 4:17 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - A comment from a member of a city commission that contained racial undertones has drawn criticism from Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson and members of the Anchorage Assembly.

The controversy began when Anchorage Housing, Homelessness and Neighborhood Development Commission member Jim Crawford began questioning the accuracy of the number of people experiencing homelessness in Anchorage provided by the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness during a HHAND meeting on March 1.

“If in the event that homelessness is caused by mental deficiency in our Native communities then that should establish the priorities of where to get the money,” Crawford said.

Crawford had begun by attempting to call into question the number of housing units available for homeless people and how many still needed housing. Just a day later, Anchorage Assembly Housing and Homelessness Committee Chair Felix Rivera condemned Crawford’s comment, calling for his resignation.

“I need to speak to an issue that was brought to my attention yesterday that I cannot ignore, and during a HHAND commission meeting held yesterday a commissioner appointed by this administration made what I think to be a very appalling and racist statement, that statement being ‘homelessness is caused by mental deficiency in our native communities,’” Rivera said. “This statement has no place in our discourse around homelessness. For my part, I am sick — literally — and tired of how the Alaska Native community is treated as a punching bag on this topic. I demand that the administration look into this issue and that the commissioner that made this statement is asked to resign from their seat on the commission, and I implore the administration to please do a better job vetting prospective candidates when making appointments.”

On Friday, Bronson spokesperson Hans Rodvik issued a statement regarding Crawford’s comment during the commission meeting.

“Mayor Bronson disagrees with Mr. Crawford’s statement. Mental illness crosses all boundaries of race, ethnicities and economic status,” the statement said. “The Mayor continues to fight for solutions that will help our city’s most vulnerable get access to treatment, services, and permanent housing.”

Crawford previously ran for the Alaska House of Representatives and the Anchorage Assembly after a career in mortgage banking and real estate. He ran for Alaska Senate in 2018 and lost to Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson.

Prior to mentioning “mental deficiency in our Native communities,” Crawford had hypothesized that the stringent processes determined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to determine the point in time count were incorrect.

“We’re looking for hardcore homeless,” Crawford said. “And then at least in the back of my mind there is the potential, you know we’ve had mental health before us a couple times and they acknowledged in the last go around that 40% of the homeless problem was mentally disabled people, well that says funding source to me.”

According to statements released by Rivera and Assembly Vice Chair Chris Constant, the HHAND differs from other city commissions in that it is charged with making recommendations concerning housing and urban development revenue allocation.

“The HHAND Commission advises the Mayor and the Assembly on issues related to long and short-term housing, homelessness, and community development needs in the Municipality and strategies to effect revitalization of lower-income and at-risk neighborhoods,” the statement said.

Constant’s comments echoed what Rivera said at the start of the Housing and Homelessness Committee.

“Racism has no place in government, especially racism towards Indigenous communities, who have stewarded these lands for time immemorial,” Constant said. “Besides, the Mayor himself recently said, ‘Regardless of how someone becomes homeless, each person must have a place to go at every moment of every day. Everyone needs a place.’ If he truly believes what he published in Must Read Alaska, he should call for the removal of Commissioner Crawford and appoint a thoroughly-vetted candidate who aligns with the values the city holds towards this issue.”

Alaska’s News Source has reached out to Crawford, but has not heard back as of the publication of this article.