The Anchorage Assembly on Tuesday will continue to advance the Berkowitz Administration’s efforts to support the city’s vagrant population.
Mayor Ethan Berkowitz plans to buy the Best Western Golden Lion Hotel on 36th and New Seward Highway, the former Alaska Club on Tudor Blvd., and America’s Best hotel in Spenard, as well as Bean’s Cafe, a soup kitchen run by a nonprofit on Third Ave.
All of the facilities would be used for day or night services for vagrant drug and alcohol abusers in the Anchorage bowl, under programs yet to be revealed to the public, and by using moneys yet to be secured.
The Berkowitz vagrant housing program is also being done without the usual public process, because the mayor has been granted emergency powers by the Assembly due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The current plan involves a “lease to own” scheme, so the municipality would use federal funds from the CARES Act — funds meant to help businesses, workers, homeowners, and renters during the economic downturn.
After the sale of Municipal Light and Power to Chugach Electric is completed later this winter, the CARES Act loan would then be paid back and redistributed in some way yet to be explained by the Berkowitz Administration. That could be months away, as the ML&P sale isn’t expected to close this year. Also, there is no plan for what services would be offered or how they would be incorporated into the municipal budget.
The CARES Act specifically states any money used for sheltering is to be used only for temporary, emergency shelter related to COVID-19.
Right now, vagrants are being housed at the Sullivan Arena and Boeke Arena, but the mayor said that the arenas would only be temporarily used. He has had possession of them since March.
Under the plan now being considered, the Assembly would rezone major portions of the city from Spenard to East Tudor, turning three of the four facilities into rehabilitation centers without having to go through the Planning and Zoning Commission, and therefore avoiding additional public input.
At present, the Alaska Club on Tudor Blvd. cannot house homeless people because is lacks sprinklers and other required systems.
The idea is to move vagrants into the America’s Best in Spenard, since it’s “move-in ready.” But America’s Best can only hold about 150 people, so the spillover would be the Golden Lion Hotel, which is also move-in ready and has nearly 100 hotel rooms.
For now, it appears the Alaska Club on Tudor would be a day center for vagrants, who would be released into the neighborhoods at night. Those plans remain unclear.
Members of the Assembly are also indicating that the Golden Lion will become the “new Clitheroe,” which is a 42-bed substance use disorder and dual diagnosis residential treatment center in Anchorage.
The Assembly work session about the Berkowitz plan on Friday went on for two hours. Some Assembly members were surprised when the administration recommended to table AO2020-58, which was the original ordinance that would have bypassed the Planning and Zoning Commission. The mayor ditched the ordinance after the public pressure he received, sources told Must Read Alaska.
But there’s a backup plan. It’s called AO 2020-66, and it just purchases the buildings, but does not address the planning and zoning issues with what to do with the buildings. There are two new versions of AO2020-66 — one uses CARES Act money and the other uses Municipal Light and Power sale money.
Neighborhood groups have been gathering information and plan to be at the Tuesday meeting of the Anchorage Assembly to weigh in with their concerns about the associated ordinances, which have been swapped out with substitution ordinances over the past week. The meeting starts at 5 pm at the Loussac Library on 36th Avenue. Seating is limited.
On Friday, it was clear the Berkowitz Administration intends to go forward with the acquisitions, but the neighborhoods are now activated. Groups have been meeting almost daily from Rogers Park to Heather Meadows near Tudor, and now Fred Meyer and Walmart corporate offices have gotten engaged to stop the plan. The neighborhoods have hired an attorney to help and have raised over $20,000 in donations for legal fees.