Anchorage Assembly authorizes city to purchase properties for homeless services

America's Best Value Inn and Suites
America’s Best Value Inn and Suites is proposed as a transitional housing facility with homelessness resources. Photo taken on July 15, 2020 (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

The Anchorage Assembly voted Tuesday night to authorize the Municipality to move forward with the purchase of four properties for substance treatment and homelessness resources. The controversial plan brought multiple protests on both sides of the issue, plus nearly thirty hours of public testimony and thousands of emailed comments.

The four properties are the Midtown Alaska Club, the Best Western Golden Lion in Midtown, Bean’s Cafe in downtown and America’s Best Value Inn in Spenard. Assembly members Crystal Kennedy and Jamie Allard voted against the purchase of all four properties. Assemblyman John Weddleton voted against the purchase of the Alaska Club, but in favor of the others. The other eight members voted in favor of all four properties.

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Over the course of public testimony, many residents railed against the proposal, raising concerns with the planning process and the proximity of some of the treatment and housing facilities to nearby neighborhoods.

“We did a lot of listening. And one of the things that I can tell you for sure, is that you have been hurt,” said Assemblyman Kameron Perez-Verdia. “We heard all of you.”

Perez-Verdia, along with most of the other yes-votes on the assembly made a point of calling out the strain of dehumanizing, racist language in some of the public comments. 

“I remember one woman comparing those experiencing homelessness to animals, and then mentioning getting her gun out when that’s a problem,” said Assemblywoman Austin Quinn-Davidson. “Suggesting that the real solution is just to ‘send them back to their villages.’ These statements minimize the complexity of this issue and the reason that homelessness exists.”

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Assemblywoman Jamie Allard, one of the most outspoken critics of the plan during the entire process, called the purchase a misuse of CARES Act funding and a “letdown.”

Kate Vogel, municipal attorney, has said using federal relief funds to create temporary and long-term housing for people experiencing homelessness is both legal and encouraged by the federal government. Even so, the U.S. Department of Treasury wrote in an email to the administration and Assembly on Monday that it has received a number of complaints against the municipality’s plan. The Treasury Inspector General is scheduled to meet with members of the administration and assembly on Wednesday to go over the details of the project.

Tuesday’s votes set in motion a series of due diligence inspections and price negotiations for each location before the city makes a purchase.