Anchorage Assembly majority wants to spend $13 million on midtown building and make it a homeless shelter

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By DAN FAGAN

The Anchorage Assembly is swelling its lavish spending spree to make life easier for street people in Anchorage. The Assembly wants to spend $13 million on a facility sitting on 17 acres in the heart of midtown and turn it into a homeless shelter. 

A local church, Faith Christian Community, is selling the property, known by many residents as the Arctic Recreation Center. 

The Assembly also wants to spend an additional $12 million on low-income housing near the property. 

Assembly members, most of whom are openly antagonistic of Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson, approved in the past the funding of a facility located in East Anchorage known as the “navigation center.”

City taxpayers have already spent $3 million on the navigation center. But the project now lies dormant, and the Assembly has refused to approve the funds to finish it.

The navigation center will cost far less to finish than the $25 million project the Assembly now proposes.

The Arctic Recreation Center is surrounded by a large neighborhood to the west of Arctic, including multiple churches, an elementary school, a charter school, dozens of businesses, hotels, and thousands of residents who call the area home. 

So why has the Assembly abandoned the mayor’s navigation center after first approving its funding, and why does it now favor a less desirable and more expensive project? 

Some say it’s politics. They say the Bronson Administration made a technical error when it came to getting funding for the project. The Assembly, dominated by Left-leaning members, saw the mistake as an opportunity to embarrass the conservative mayor. Critics says it’s obvious Assembly members care more about embarrassing and humiliating Bronson than helping the homeless or wisely spending taxpayer dollars.  

Assemblyman Felix Rivera is leading the charge to spend the $25 million on the new midtown homeless center, which would be in his district. Assemblywoman Meg Zalatel also represents the area; she is the executive director for the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness, where she takes home a six-figure salary, some of which is paid for by taxpayers.  

Critics say Zalatel, sometimes known as the Anchorage homeless czar, has a financial incentive to grow Anchorage’s vagrant problem.

Taxpayers spent $62 million last year alone on the Anchorage vagrancy problem. They’ve spent $161 million in the past three years. 

If the Assembly goes through with its new $25 million midtown facility, it will need to undergo significant zoning and code rewrites to make it usable as a homeless shelter. 

There is a distinct difference between the Mayor and Assembly’s vision for solving the city’s vagrant problem. 

Bronson would rather complete the centralized navigation center, close to medical facilities and away from neighborhoods. That center would get people who are living on the streets the kind of services that will help them most — medical, drug and alcohol recovery, jobs, and shelter.

The navigation center work was under way, but the Assembly then withdrew the money needed to complete the project.

The Assembly however leans toward multiple shelters, evidenced by the body’s desire to buy the Golden Lion Hotel, the former Alaska Club on Tudor, and now the Arctic Recreation Center in midtown.  

The Arctic Recreation Center would be a low barrier shelter. That means residents can show up drunk or high and still hang out on the property and have a place to stay. 

Anchorage’s homeless population has increased considerably after former Mayor Ethan Berkowitz began to significantly increase the taxpayer money spent on the problem year after year. The more Anchorage spends, the faster the homeless population grows. Rivera and Zalatel are clearly doubling down on the strategy.

Dan Fagan is a reporter for Must Read Alaska. Email him at [email protected].

70 COMMENTS

  1. You build it, they will come. The more services you supply the substance abuser and mentally deficient the more will come.

    • Please correct me if I’m wrong, but navigation center planned is a bubble building, not solid enough for my idea of building materials especially in Alaska.
      Also the homeless people want to be around grocery, liquor, drug stores, PFD office, Walmart and other stores, high traffic corners etc.
      Sullivan Arena is good enough for now.

      • A sprung structure works fine up here. Ft. Wainwright uses them. Inexpensive to operate and easy to repair when needed. Cost a bit to heat them, but that’s been improved dramatically over the last 10 years. We don’t need a bomb shelter, just a garage to house and treat and send out into the world or the hospital as needs fit. Just get them off the damned street and make them become productive or send them home already.

        • How inexpensive? Bronson has not provided an estimated operational cost for his big tent in the woods

      • Have you ever been on the slope? These types of buildings are used in the harshest environments in Alaska.
        Additionally, this is not intended to be a permanent home. It is intended to assist those in need – and who want the help – to navigate their situation in life to self-supported independence.

  2. The tax base for the Muni is shrinking exponentially due to all the spending on multiple properties and placing them in “non profit” organizations or under municipal ownership. It is going to impact property owners in a huge way. It already has resulted in increases in property taxes that make a home purchased 25 year ago now having a tax bill that is larger than the original mortgage payment on the property.

  3. The property is appraised on the MOA appraisal at $2.84 million. So they are going to spend an additional $11 million making into a blight on the surrounding community. Excellent idea, NOT.

  4. The Anchorage Assembly are a self serving and self promoting bunch, who, without a doubt, care little about truly helping struggling citizens, but rather simply looking for ways to warehouse potential left leaning voters, made so by encouraged government dependence and seeming hopelessness. While this very ineffective but somehow elected, club are squandering your tax dollars, there are private agencies quietly setting up meaningful and effective help for the less fortunate. I will list three that have recently come to my attention.

    Hope Center. ‘https://www.downtownhopecenter.org/

    Shiloh Community Housing. ‘https://www.bethechange907.org/agency/detail/?agency_id=25156

    Catholic Social Services Navigation Center ‘https://www.cssalaska.org/our-programs/3rd-avenue-resource-center/

    It seems this assembly also spend an inordinate amount of time focused on ways to undermine and circumvent the mayor than looking for ways to work together to actually solve issues constructively.

  5. Why not? It’s only other peoples money. May as well include room service, free weed, and a 6 month paid subscription to the adult website of the customer’s choice.

    Massages too.

    For whatever reason, indigent drug users is the hill Anchorage and the progressives nationwide have chosen to die on.

    Only thing that makes sense is they are trying to do two things. Get the rest of us ready for our dystopian future and make as many of us as possible incapable of surviving without them.

  6. Of course the assembly wants to spend more money to buy and provide new homes for the growing homeless elements of the city and continue to enrich some of the assembly members…at some point we are going to have to consider re-naming the homeless to guests of the Zalatel inns….

    But on April 04 we have a chance to perhaps provide a change of direction by Voting for some new blook on the school board and assembly…VOTE and make sure you Get the person next to you to VOTE as well….it is an uphill battle but one we must win at some point!!!!!

  7. It wasn’t a minor technical error of the Administration.. it was illegal…telling Hickel Construction to go ahead without the necessary Assembly approval.

    The proposed Nav Center on Tudor / Elmore was indeed near a residential area and a school and was opposed by many.

    • Hold on a sec here Joanne.
      The assembly AGREED to the navigation center earlier in the year, set about $6 million aside and then decided not to honor that agreement and withhold pay after the center was half-finished. So please explain the “illegal” part. Frankly the Elmore navigation center is a much better location than midtown. You have hospitals, police etc nearby, not so in midtown. As a taxpayer it should irritate you that the assembly has spent over $161 million on homelessness in about 3 years, for about 1000 individuals in a city of a little less than 292000 residents. Now they are poised to add another $25 million to that tap. This is a disproportional appropriation of funds no matter what you think of the mayor, especially after ALL that money spent, we still have no improvement anywhere, only more non-profits.

      • The assembly approved only $50,000 of funding, and as the legislative branch of our local government, they control the purse strings and must be asked to approve expenditures. When the Mayor or his administration, the executive branch, told Hickel Construction to continue without assembly approval the Mayor or Admin broke the law or city charter

        You may not like how they spend the money, but the assembly controls the checkbook

        • Agreed Pablo, the assembly controls the purse strings and to my knowledge they agreed to the navigation center after a lengthy negotiation with the mayor AND authorized the $6 million for the project. Yet when it came time to pay the man, they refused to write a check. If there only was $50000 in funding appropriated as you claim (basically enough to draw plans, get permits and maybe clear the site) NO business in their right mind would have taken that job or started the process.

          • The assembly may have sequestered that $6 million for a navigation site, but that does not mean they approved the spending of said $6 million.

            The initial contract work was for $50,000 with the condition that both Hickel and the Mayor’s administration come to the assembly for approval of work exceeding that amount. When Mayor Bronson heard that the cost was more, he or someone in the administration, told Hickel to continue to work.

            Amy Dembowski citied this as one of her many grievances in her demand letter. She said that when she asked the mayor about the cost overruns, he said that the M&O director would take the fall.

            That is not how our local government works.

      • Non-profits are the small government model that Bronson ran on to fix the homeless problem. The Bronson administration violated AMC by authorizing more than $50,000 without Assembly approval for the Sprung Structure. Shelters are a transition to regular housing, a midtown location is superior to a tent in the woods. You are entitled to your opinion, but not alternative facts

        • Thank you Frank, that’s funny considering the source!
          There is such a thing as the truth, the WHOLE truth and nothing but the truth…. I disagree with your classification of the navigation center as a “tent in the woods”.

        • Well Frank, don’t take my word for it.
          Here a few headlines from May 11, 2022:
          ADN:
          Assembly approves spending $6.2 million for East Anchorage homeless and navigation Center
          KTUU:
          Homeless navigation center resolution approved by assembly
          MRAK:
          Assembly approves funding for mayor’s navigation center

          Changing the rules after you made a deal is disingenuous.

    • I’m with A Taxpayer, Joanne. The news you consume is heavily weighted to scorch the current administration. Taxpayer is correct re: the reneging by the Assembly on a previous agreement. While you’re referring to wasted money, the Assembly’s nefarious activities include wasting approximately $53,000 of non-refundable earnest money on the old AK Club at Tudor and Old Seward. The Assembly loves the homeless to death, essentially robbing what little incentive the majority of them have left to better themselves by actually having to put some skin in the game. In talking to a friend earlier today, he told me of a friend who visited family in Montana, one of which was a police officer. He asked the Montanan “You’re city is so clean. How do you do it?” The reply was “We don’t feed the pigeons. When Winter hits, they all leave.” Here, they don’t have to leave because the people you vote for make certain the problem lingers ad nauseam. While you’re at it, connect the dots of Anchorage 907 Initiative’s Executive Director, the ADN and Assemblyman Chris Constant. If this group, Constant (and the rest of his cohorts on the Assembly) worked half as hard on the homeless issue instead of the premeditated and perpetual attacks on Bronson, they might actually accomplish something good for the city.

      • Very good comment, Brad!
        .
        Yes, it is beyond obvious that, like the federal government with welfare cases, the Marxist Ten on the Municipal ass-embly not only have no interest in solving the homeless crisis in Anchorage, they have every incentive to perpetuate it — because it feeds both their personal pocketbooks, and their overall control agenda and power.

  8. Leftists have no problem with spending your money.
    .
    Once again, the wants of the homeless take precedent over the needs of the taxpayers.

  9. Cheaper is better. Away from peoples homes is another. Let’s put it next door to Felix and Meg. They could volunteer and their yards could be used for tents. Spend the people’s money stupidly assembly and ask for more because you can that’s rich.

  10. What the majority of the assembly wants to do is hide the growing homeless population. They do t want you to see what their inactions have done! They have had years to deal with this situation. I moved up 25 years ago and really didn’t see this much homeless, vagrants! And now it’s a huge young population! Woe is us!

    • It is a curious coincidence that the number of homeless and their related problems seems to increase proportionally to the amount a city spends on homeless services.
      Perhaps if we cut the amount we spent, the number of homeless wandering our streets would diminish. Just like it has for every other city that cut spending on the homeless.

      • That comment isn’t factual and borders on a downright lie. Most cities spend on average $35,000 per homeless person if they don’t deal with the problem. The way to deal with it is housing. It’s cheaper to solve the problem and to stick your head in the sand. Most major metropolitan cities have found that out some like Anchorage the hard way. Do your research next time.

        • I know. Seattle and San Francisco are such good examples of how spending more on the homeless benefits the city as a whole. And, let’s not forget NYC where they are dumping hundreds of dollars a night to house the homeless in hotels. Which invariably end up trashed and unlivable.
          Those cities are doing so well. But, hey! Anchorage can do EXACTLY the same thing, but will get different results.
          .
          Now, tell me, where did I present anything as a fact? I did say, coincidence that the number of homeless increase proportionally to the amount the city spends on homeless services. Seattle and San Francisco are good examples of that.
          .
          And, the rest of my statement was speculative at best. Starting off with the word “Perhaps…” might have tipped you off, but then again, you have yet to demonstrate adult level reading comprehension.

        • Curious.
          No rebuttal for my statements about Seattle/San Francisco?
          I will take this as proof that I am correct. Thanks!

  11. Mine own question is who owns the property, and what is their connection to various members of the Assembly?

    Who gains from this proposal?

    It is most assuredly NOT the citizens of the area, so who benefits from the establishment of yet another ‘safe haven’ for the ‘homeless’ aside from the ‘homeless’ and the complex of homelessness ownership that forcefully promotes it?

  12. A pragmatic individual must think, should the increase of funding for homelessness increase the numbers of homeless year after year, as Anchorage has factually shown, would not the decrease of funding for homelessness lead unto the decrease the numbers of homeless year after year?

    Afterall, the more a ‘government’ spends on something, the more of that something occurs.

    One may, or should believe that if ALL funding of a problem were to go away, so would the problem itself, would it not?

    • I was told by my (now former) assembly rep that these efforts are to stop Anchorage from turning into another Seattle or San Fran.
      I did ask “Can you explain how doing EXACTLY what Seattle and San Fran are doing will have different results?” Curiously, I never heard back from him.
      .
      And, pretty much, when you cut services to the absolute minimum, for some reason the homeless problems seem to go away, or disappear altogether.

  13. Good job, Assembly. That new facility just brought 500 to 1000 more homeless into your city. Of course, they will all be registered Democrats and will vote.

  14. How about revoking all the churches tax free status until they take in homeless like the caring people they pretend to be?

    • How about the Assembly not barring the Churches from providing services to the Homeless?
      All because they require them to, at a minimum, attempt to clean themselves up, get off the drugs/booze, and try to improve. Nope, not good enough for the homeless industrial complex, letting someone stay on the streets is not allowable. Either take them all, or none.
      .
      Clue.org. Head on over and click on the Get A button.

    • Do you truly believe that Christians live to affirm people in their sins? Church services come with the price of responsibility. Most drug addicts and drunks can’t be bothered. Why would we support poor choices of individuals? Hardly a Christian thing to do, but then, most atheists don’t ever figure that one out.

      Christ said, “Go, and sin no more.” You could look it up.

    • We would first have to excise the moral and intellectual cancer of radical leftist extremism from the body politic. The question is, is the patient already terminal?

  15. As much as you want to hide the homeless from the down town streets far from the tourist were they come too! Won’t happen! Homeless knows were too hit the streets!

  16. Why build a permanent structure for what should be a temporary problem.
    I can see spending money on expanded psychiatric hospitals as long as there is a mechanism to ensure the people who need it live there and don’t boomerang in and out.
    I have no empathy for the public inebriated and feel no obligation to spend a dime on people who refuse to take responsibility for themselves.

  17. Hmmm(?) … I’m wondering if I could get a Liquor License and open up a Discount Liquor Store with Cheap Cigs, Day-Old Doughnuts, Guv’ment Coffee, Cheap Cannibus Product, Beyond Meat Burgers and Rental Outhouses somewhere within the immediate area? Could be a profitable venture!!!

  18. Mayor Bronson has not released the operational cost of the Sprung Structure, which would likely be in the $5 Million/year range. The neighborhood reaction has been mixed, an NGO operating a homeless shelter seems to be in line with Bronson’s small government approach to the homeless. The Bronson Administration has not provided any life/cycle costs on the Sprung Structure, MRAK has conveniently calculated the economic savings with a tent in the woods.

  19. The simple fact is that housing ends homelessness. It can provide the stability a person needs to end unemployment, get off the booze and drugs and whatever other issue they have such as mental illness. Simply put, the city is having to pay for unpaid medical bills. On average, homeless people stay 3 days in the hospital when they are taken in. That alone cost the taxpayers as much as $90,000 per visit. One recent case in Reno Nevada ran up a bill of over 1 million dollars. It doesn’t take long for a city to realize that something has to be done. The problem never goes away just by looking the other way. A city has to be proactive and attack this problem at its core. First off, if they’re homeless, provide them housing. That can be the beginning of the solution. Waiting for them to bankrupt the cities legal system and medical establishments and hoping that they die on the street and you can turn them into Soylent Green isn’t the solution. You can say I’m not going to pay one cent for those lazy slobs. Where are they doing drugs in the first place? Send them back to the village. It’s not my problem it’s the city’s problem they need to solve it but they need to solve it without using any of my money. You have to ask yourself is that really the way a city functions? Everyone has to put something in the kitty as part of a requirement for living in the city and enjoying its conveniences and safety and social activities. If you want to play, you have to pay.

    • Caring about the homeless is a luxury of a wealthy city.
      When you place the homeless above maintaining and increasing that wealth, you will lose the wealth, and the ability to care about the homeless.
      .
      History is abundantly clear about one thing. The current path the Assembly is demanding we follow leads to loss of tax revenue, closing businesses, and tourists going elsewhere. The places where they do exactly what you are proposing are now watching their tax base leave. In other words, it destroys the wealth that allowed us to care about the homeless.
      .
      What you are proposing will turn Anchorage into another Seattle, where millions will be spent on the consultants, while the homeless problems increase. This belief that a place to live will incentivize the homeless to clean up their act is fantasy.

        • Pray tell, me just where are they?? Do you have a city in mind, please give us examples, and just where are these cities located?? I don’t know of any. They live in government sponsored hotels and living abodes and spend the cities finances that should be spent on improving the city they live in. It’s more like hiding the truth of reality.

        • Too bad the assembly is not pursuing the same path the cities that have shown success followed. Instead, they are following the path of the cities that adopted a housing first approach, and failed.
          .
          Just looked at a few different articles about housing first, and when I compare the successful cities actions against what the assembly is doing, there is little correlation beyond the name. But you seem convinced that it will work just fine in Anchorage because… reasons. Magical thinking seems to be one of your strongest traits.

      • If tourists are going elsewhere, why are investors continuing to build hotels on C Street? Do you know something professional business people do not?

  20. Consequence. The left hates to allow those that make Bad decisions to face them. This leads to more of the unwanted behavior. We use to call this enabling. If you take away the pain of bad decisions these individuals have no reason to learn. You are condemning them. Stop rewarding this self destructive behavior. As for those that are actually mentally ill giving them money to slowly poison themselves is the farthest thing from compassion.

  21. I don’t think we found the root of the homeless population! That keeps increasing year by year! But, I see we keep spending more in tax payers dollars with props, each year for a QUICK fix of the homelessness! Meaning quick fixes! This is a slow crock pot of a fix! I’m sure with some thought and easy community efforts! You could ease this!

  22. Well. Another homeless non profit probaly be not that bad if it was led by real salt-of-the-earth christians whose non profit wouldn’t take 1 cent from government.

  23. I feel building another shelter for vagrants is not going to solve the root problem. My solution would be to transport the vagrants, as they are found, take them to a medical facility such as ANS,API, jail or such and keep them there, day and night, for three months to be evaluated. They can be routed to the appropriate help from there. We have several places that offer training for work, help with addiction problems, places for families to get back on their feet and meals for those who have need. All of this would cost money but would be MUCH cheaper than this constant appropriation of taxpayer money to those who really do not want to help themselves.

  24. If the ‘homeless’ are homed in paid for by Gov. housing will there be any incentive to keep their gifted areas clean?
    Just asking.
    signed –
    cleanup on aisle one

  25. Also – since voting was brought up in the comments,
    Q’s on upcoming Anchorage voting for Assembly members and bonds:
    Q: How many mail in ballots were printed and mailed out on this round?
    Q: How many qualified registered voters are in the Anchorage area?
    Q: How many ballots were mailed to out of state Anchorage voters?
    Q: Anyone feel this mail in ballot system is questionable?
    Q: Anyone able to feel confident about the count and end results?
    Signed –
    Inquiring minds want to know

  26. This looks like another step to create more bum housing with physical addresses so bums can be registered to vote, helped to vote, and of course have their mail-in ballots mailed to them and for them in Anchorage’s easily corruptible mail-in ballot elections.
    .
    With Eaglexit all but certain, the loss of loyal voters will have to be fixed somehow so bonds and propositions can still be passed and incumbents can still be re-elected by vote margins which the public can be made to accept.
    .
    Creating even more bum housing with physical addresses for bum voters therefore seems an ideal fix.
    .
    Surely for something so important to their Assembly members, taxpayers can agree cost is no object.

  27. I’d rather give each homeless tents, tarps, and coats. They can decide if they want to improve their life.

  28. How about handing out one way tickets to Seattle, Portland or LA instead! They already have the infrastructure to deal with the problem.

  29. Why are we making housing for people who are using and don’t have the tools or resources to get sober and learn to be sober?
    If the assembly really wanted to help these people they would help them get sober and learn to stand on their own two feet.

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