Municipal plan to buy buildings for homeless services draws concerns ahead of vote

Published: Jul. 10, 2020 at 9:57 PM AKDT
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The Anchorage Assembly is considering an ordinance that would authorize the purchase of a number of buildings around Anchorage specifically for uses related to homeless services. However, over multiple meetings Friday, the Assembly and community members both raised concerns over the long-term impacts of the ordinance.

The ordinance itself would appropriate $22.5 million toward the purchase of four buildings:

  • The Bean's Cafe 3rd avenue campus, to be a service engagement center.
  • The old Alaska Club on Tudor near Old Seward as a midtown shelter and engagement center.
  • The Golden Lion Hotel as an addiction treatment center.
  • The America's Best Value Inn on Spenard as a housing and resource center.
  • At a Friday work session, Assembly members discussed some of the feedback they'd received from constituents at recent community council meetings. “There was a fair amount of support for it,” said Assembly Member Kameron Perez-Verdia, representing West Anchorage, “but also just overall concern about the impact it's going to have on the neighborhood." Others worried that the plan for the buildings hasn’t been fully fleshed out. “We still haven't determined how we're going to fund which pieces,” said Assembly Vice-Chair Austin Quinn-Davidson, representing West Anchorage. “It sounds like you have some ideas, but I would like to see a spreadsheet, or something that is far more descriptive, both the acquisition... and then beyond that, operating." At a different gathering Friday, residents and business owners near an Alaska Club location discussed a coordinated opposition to the ordinance, with Eagle River Assembly Member Jamie Allard offering suggestions for how people could voice their oppositions. One of the people who attended, Joe Dahl, lives in Heather Meadows near the old Alaska Club location. He said he saw little support for the ordinance. “I spoke to all our neighbors, went to 80 different houses, not one single person said, 'Hey, we'd like to have those people in our neighborhood, we want to have this facility there and all the things that are associated with that,’” he said. Dahl added they he felt he saw a need for services to help people to escape the cycle of homelessness in Anchorage, but that he didn’t want to see a shelter near the neighborhood in which his children grew up. Currently, many of the resources for individuals experiencing homelessness are found downtown. At Friday’s worksession, Downtown Assembly Member Christopher Constant pointed to a commitment the Assembly had made to change that. “The Assembly, thankfully - to Mr. Rivera and Mrs. LaFrance - authored a resolution in 2018... that it is the stated policy of the municipality that we work to distribute the social services across the community for homelessness support,” he said. Another topic at that meeting and another worksession was a second ordinance that would change zoning laws to allow homeless shelters in B-3, or mixed use, zones, but the administration recommended voting it down, saying more work is needed. “This really does provide closure to the community and sets the stage to discuss a revised process,” said Municipal Planning Director Michelle McNulty. Jason Bockenstedt, the mayor’s chief of staff, added at the worksession that the municipality would still be able to move forward with the purchases and renovations if the zoning ordinance failed, as long as the Assembly authorized the purchases. Both ordinances will be up for public hearing at the assembly's July 14 meeting. Comments can be submitted either in-person, or through email. Copyright 2020 KTUU. All rights reserved.