The Anchorage Assembly voted Tuesday night against spending $4.9 million to build a new homeless shelter and navigation center in East Anchorage, effectively killing the project for now.
The shelter has long been a focal point of Mayor Dave Bronson’s approach to addressing homelessness in the city. But Assembly members, including chair Suzanne LaFrance, said the mayor’s office never gave them enough information about the project.
“What I know for certain is that if the mayor had given the Assembly the information that is needed — that is best practice, that is typically provided for these kinds of projects — I am confident that this navigation center/adult shelter could’ve been built months ago,” LaFrance said.
Some Assembly members also said they were dismayed that the mayor’s administration had given Roger Hickel Contracting the go-ahead to spend millions to begin construction of the shelter without the approval of the Assembly, as is required in city code for spending more than $50,000. The city halted construction in September and later admitted the error to the Assembly.
Eagle River Assembly member Kevin Cross argued that completing the project was still worth doing.
“Did the administration make a mistake in approving the work prior to coming to the Assembly? Yes,” Cross said. “Do we punish Anchorage and the homeless for it? No.”
The Assembly voted against the funding 9 to 3, with members Cross, Randy Sulte and Jamie Allard voting in favor.
Municipal manager Amy Demboski said the contractor has already spent roughly $3.2 million to build the project. She said the Assembly voting down the funding opens the city up to legal action.
“We’ve already received two demand letters from Roger Hickel Construction, meaning litigation is inevitable if it’s not approved,” Demboski said.
In the meantime, the city is using the Sullivan Arena as an emergency shelter, with a surge capacity of 200 beds. The return to the Sullivan came after several months of homeless people being directed to camp at the Centennial Campground in Northeast Anchorage. The city closed the campground last month. City officials say more than 1,000 people used the campground through the summer with more than 550 of them directed to shelters, treatment facilities or permanent housing.