The Anchorage Assembly is approving a settlement payout of nearly $2.4 million, requested by Mayor Dave Bronson, to contractor Hickel Construction for work and materials for a navigation center for homeless people. Assembly members Karen Bronga and George Martinez voted against paying the outstanding bill.
The work had been completed without official approval by the Assembly, although it had earlier approved the concept and initial expenditures. Hickel was ready to go to court to collect the money for the work done in good faith.
According to Assemblyman Chris Constant and the Anchorage Daily News, the $2.4 million is going to hit Anchorage homeowners in the form of increased tax bills, and they want taxpayers to blame it on the mayor.
In reality, the additional cost from this settlement will be less than half a percent of the total property tax revenue that Anchorage collected in 2022 – which was around $600 million. The legal fees that the Assembly has run up since Bronson took office are likely to have a bigger impact on property taxes, along with the purchase of the Golden Lion hotel for $9.5 million to create a drug rehab facility — something done under the administration of Mayor Ethan Berkowitz.
Critics point out contend that had this navigation center been built and operational during the previous winter, the cost savings by addressing homelessness would have been significant.
Instead, homeless were housed for a third year at the Sullivan Arena, which taxpayers built for an entertainment venue.
The Bronson administration has estimated that the Sullivan Arena that every five months of operation of the Sullivan for homeless shelter for those who cannot follow the rules of structured shelters would cost between $1.7 million to $3 million, depending on the number of homeless housed.
Assembly Member Kevin Cross, a proponent of finishing the navigation center, said it is “, “The navigation center is “probably our most realistic for the amount of people that can service, that we can have in place before cold weather.” If the Assembly doesn’t act soon, “then the reality is we’re just going to be opening the Sullivan Arena back up,” he said.
Bronson’s administration estimated the cost for the construction of the navigation center to be $12.2 million. Operating it could cost $7.9 million a year. The money to complete the project appears to have been siphoned off by the Assembly for other uses, and so there seems to be no path forward for the navigation center at this juncture.
“I don’t deny that it could possibly do good in our community if it’s a well-planned facility, but it’s not going to solve our staffing needs for social workers or for treatment beds. It’s not going to solve our need for housing, which is the solution to homelessness, and it’s not going to solve all of our need for the winter,” said Assemblyman Felix Rivera, who has opposed the navigation center all along.
Due to the Assembly’s refusal to work with the mayor, the materials for the project, already purchased, shipped, and received by the municipality, are gathering dust in a warehouse in Eagle River – -a facility built for city equipment but now repurposed as a makeshift shelter for materials that were intended to shelter humans.
Meanwhile, some members of the Anchorage Assembly are exploring purchasing and assembly homeless shacks called “pallet homes,” which have been dubbed “sugarcoated slave shacks” by critics who oppose them in Seattle and other places, because they are government-constructed slums that resemble those in third-world countries, such as Soweto, South Africa.