There’s no such thing as free. This week, the Legislative Council approved $6.6 million in renovations to an old Juneau building it owns. When the renovations are complete, many legislators and staff members won’t have to go to the private housing market for their housing, and so that Juneau, as a community, can avoid addressing its bleak housing situation.
The $6.6 million approved by the committee that handles legislative business when the Legislature is not in session is a 20% increase over the $5.5 million estimated just six months ago to renovate the Assembly Building, once known as the Assembly Apartments.
Soon, many legislators will simply rent from the Legislature, which owns the prime real estate just steps from the Capitol. But first, the building must be converted into 33 apartments.
It is hard to get housing in Juneau at any time of year, but especially during late spring to fall, when the tourism season is in full swing. With housing to be provided by the State of Alaska, the Legislature can soon more easily meet beyond the 90-day statutory limit for sessions, or the 120-day constitutional limit. Legislators won’t have to free up their apartments for incoming tourism workers.
In fact, by owning its own housing, the Legislature can have all the special sessions it wants, and collect all the per diem that goes with it. Legislators who don’t live in Juneau make $307 per diem.
The Assembly Building is three stories and has a full basement for covered parking. It is an Art Deco-style building, one of very few in Alaska that give a nod to that classic architectural era, and it’s considered an historic structure by the City of Juneau. Long ago, it was filled with private apartments.
In recent years, it has been used for lobbyist offices, and as of 2021, the Alaska Legislature, as the new landlord, started renting to lobbyists and unions that keep their offices close to the Capitol. In fact, congressional candidate Mary Peltola had her campaign office in that legislative building.
Current revenue from the building is $222,987 per year, and annual operating expenses are $220,000.
It was valued at $1.6 million when the Juneau Community Foundation bought it and deeded it to the Legislature in 2021, as a gesture meant to preserve Juneau as the state capital. With another $6.6 million, it will return to the apartments it once housed for Juneauites.