Juneau Assembly To Decide Fate Of Haven House

Signs protesting Haven House’s location can be seen all over the Malissa Drive area, even in front of Haven House. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)
Signs protesting Haven House’s location can be seen all over the Malissa Drive area, even in front of Haven House. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

The Juneau Assembly heard an appeal Monday night challenging a transitional home for women who are former inmates.

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Andrew Hughes and the Tall Timbers Neighborhood Association contend the conditional use permit granted to Haven House in October by the Juneau Planning Commission was improper.

Each side of the appeal had 30 minutes to present its arguments. Prior to the hearing, the Assembly had about 1,700 pages of supporting documents to review.

Representing the Tall Timbers Neighborhood Association, attorney Dan Bruce argued Haven House is a halfway house. He quoted how city code defines a halfway house:

“‘A single-family dwelling for not more than nine persons over the age of 12, together with not more than two persons providing supervision and other services to such persons, all of whom live together as a single housekeeping unit. Residents may be serving a sentence for a criminal act.’ That is Haven House. There is no ifs, ands or buts about it.”

Under city code, halfway houses are not allowed in typical residential districts, like the zoning that covers Malissa Drive in the Mendenhall Valley where Haven House is located.

Attorneys Dan Bruce, Robert Palmer, and Mary Alice McKeen presented arguments to the Juneau Assembly Monday night. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)
Attorneys Dan Bruce, Robert Palmer, and Mary Alice McKeen presented arguments to the Juneau Assembly Monday night. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Bruce said the short-term residents of Haven House would not take ownership of the neighborhood and its presence would lower property values.

“This is the wrong move. It is placing transitory individuals with criminal records in a stable and mature neighborhood and I think that’s completely inappropriate. And I think it is in effect a social experiment and the people of this neighborhood are being asked to be part of the experiment,” Bruce said.

Attorney Mary Alice McKeen represented Haven House. She said Haven House is not a halfway house and the head of Alaska’s Department of Corrections agrees.

“And the reason is that people live in Haven House by their choice. They are not sentenced to live at Haven House. The women living in Haven House could live anywhere as long as they got the permission of their probation or parole officer,” McKeen said.

Representing the planning commission, assistant city attorney Robert Palmer III said Haven House is considered transitional housing and is allowed in a residential neighborhood with a conditional use permit.

“The record clearly establishes that there’s substantial evidence that transitional housing will improve the public health and safety. The structure complies with all fire and building codes. And probably most importantly, evidence was presented that the recidivism rate without transitional housing is roughly 60 percent. With transitional housing as proposed by Haven House, recidivism rate drops down to 20 percent,” Palmer said.

The Assembly met later last night to deliberate. City attorney Amy Mead says the Assembly has 45 days to issue its decision to the parties.

Haven House is currently operating on Malissa Drive with staff, including a live-in manager, and two residents.