Anchorage working group proposes building large Midtown shelter and buying 3 smaller sites

A person speaks to people up on a dais
Assembly members Chris Constant and Meg Zaletel at a Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021, meeting at the Anchorage Assembly chambers presenting a plan to transition out of the Sullivan Arena. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

An Anchorage working group charged with finding new shelter spaces says it has agreed on a framework for moving 400 people out of the Sullivan Arena. 

The proposed plan, presented at a meeting on Tuesday, includes building a new shelter site from scratch and purchasing smaller locations around the city. 

“This plan is frankly a better plan than what we presented several months ago,” John Morris, the city’s homeless coordinator, said at the meeting. 

The working group is made up of three Assembly members and three representatives from Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration.

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Under the group’s proposal, the city would build a shelter on the corner of Elmore and Tudor roads that could sleep 200 people and would have a surge capacity for another 140. That’s smaller than a previous version of a shelter proposed at the same location by Bronson’s administration in June that was denied by the Assembly. 

As part of the proposal, the city would also buy three other properties around town targeting specific populations:

  • 200 beds with possible permanent supportive housing for LGBTQ people, elders, women and couples located at either the former Pacific Northern Academy (550 Bragaw St.) or a former Johnson’s Tires (3300 Calais Drive)
  • 150 beds at a site for medically fragile people, possibly at a former Alaska Club building in Midtown (630 E. Tudor Rd.)
  • 68 beds for a substance abuse treatment center with permanent supportive housing, possibly at an old Salvation Army building (660 48th Ave.)

In all, the city would offer 730 shelter beds, plus an additional 140 beds for surge capacity. The city currently has 758 beds. 

The plan still faces a vote from the full Assembly, which could happen as soon as Oct. 27, according to a timeline presented by the working group. 

Last month, the Assembly hired a real estate consultant to analyze about 30 properties to consider for shelters. The review by the Boutet Company narrowed those down to five potential sites, including two contractor options for the Tudor and Elmore shelter. Costs vary dramatically depending on the need for renovations, new construction and the asking price from the current owners. 

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If all the properties are purchased, it’s estimated to cost about $41 million under the cheapest plan. But it’s unclear how much of the bill the city would pay. The city says some of the costs could be covered by COVID-19 relief money, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and philanthropy. 

The price tag doesn’t include the Salvation Army purchase for a substance abuse treatment center, which Boutet Company hasn’t fully analyzed. That building, if purchased, could use money designated for substance abuse treatment from the city’s alcohol tax revenue.

Read more about the cost estimates for the five properties here.

That total also doesn’t include operating costs, which also could vary by location. Assembly members said it’s too early to have a clear idea what the operating costs would be. 

According to the proposal, operations could be covered by the city’s alcohol tax, Medicaid reimbursement and federal HUD funding. 

Representatives from two private funders — Weidner Apartments and the Rasmuson Foundation — also spoke at the meeting on Tuesday, suggesting that they would contribute to the plan.

Still, group members said the city would have to foot more of the costs than it had previously. Before the pandemic, the city contributed just a fraction of shelter costs. 

“We have yet to be able to cross that bridge, but it’s coming,” said Chris Constant, one of the Assembly members on the group, about funding.

Group members touted other aspects of the proposal, including its alignment with the Anchored Home plan, a three-year framework for ending homelessness in Anchorage released in 2018. They also pointed out that it would allow the city to decrease the number of people staying at draw down the Sullivan Arena gradually as sites are stood up. 

The city is also asking the community for its input. It is planning to present the shelter proposal to community councils and will host a town hall in the coming weeks. 

Assembly members thanked the group for the work — an estimated 500 hours of meeting time — and were optimistic about the plan. 

“There wasn’t anything new or earth-shattering about this, which is maybe a good thing,” said Eagle River Assembly member Crystal Kennedy.

But working group members said there was a lot of work still needed to finalize the plan. 

“Next comes the hard part: it’s the implementation,” said Midtown Assembly member Meg Zaletel.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the total price of the property purchases. It is roughly $41 million, not roughly $200 million.

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