Anchorage leaders pitch regular rental housing as transition out of winter homeless shelters

North Wind Apartments with "Now Leasing" sign (for rent)
A “Now Leasing” sign is displayed at the North Wind Apartments in Anchorage’s Fairview neighborhood on Dec. 15, 2023. The Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness wants to move 150 people currently in winter shelters into market rate, one-year apartment leases by the end of April. (Shiri Segal/Alaska Public Media)

Anchorage’s homelessness experts and political leaders are pushing a new approach to getting people out of shelters and into long-term housing this spring: They want to lease units from anyone who has vacancies in Anchorage at market rates. 

Even with the city’s tight housing market, members of the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness think it will be cheaper per person to pay rent on apartments, while also funding some additional supportive services, than to run a big shelter or sanctioned camping site.

The coalition’s executive director, Meg Zaletel, made the pitch at a gathering Dec. 4 that included service agencies, city officials and a visiting delegation of their counterparts from Houston, Texas. The Houston officials’ efforts dramatically reduced homelessness there and informed Anchorage’s new plan. 

Zaletel is also vice chair of the Anchorage Assembly and said the goal is to house 150 people, who are now in the city’s emergency winter shelters, by the time the shelters close at the end of April. 

“Not just housing, housing with services,” she said. “Housing that is all-in and transparent. Housing that supports the person wherever they are and meets them where they are so that we have the greatest success.” 

The coalition estimates that for about $85 per day per person, they can fully cover rent and utilities for a year on a one-bedroom apartment, plus case managers making weekly visits and one-time costs like a security deposit, move-in expenses and a $500 incentive for landlords to hold a unit. 

The coalition estimates about 25% of the cost will be covered by individual benefits, like a federal housing voucher, assistance from the Alaska Housing Finance Corp. or the renter’s own income. 

By comparison, feeding and sheltering a single adult in the city’s three main winter facilities costs more.

“We know shelter costs $100 a day,” Zaletel said. “So we have a great opportunity to really, not only do the economic thing, but do the human thing.”

The coalition is calling the effort the Next Step pilot program and is asking the Assembly to pitch in $1.5 million from the city’s alcohol tax revenue to supplement funds already secured for the program. 

The online classifieds site Craigslist shows hundreds of one-bedroom apartments for rent in Anchorage that fit the coalition’s cost estimates. Part of the challenge, though, is finding landlords willing to take on tenants with poor housing and financial histories and other potential red flags. 

The coalition said financial incentives, like its proposed $500 hold fee and the United Way of Anchorage’s Landlord Housing Partnership program, can help overcome landlords’ reluctance. 

Mayor Dave Bronson and Assembly leaders are on board to fund it. 

But even if the coalition meets its goal, the cold weather shelter system would still have to put an estimated 424 people back on the streets at the end of April. 

Felix Rivera, chair of the Assembly’s Housing and Homelessness Committee, walked through other efforts underway to address the transition out of winter sheltering during a work session Friday

He said about 40 people could be housed in vacant and abandoned properties that the Assembly is having renovated through the Anchorage Affordable Housing Land Trust. Early discussions are underway to keep the former Solid Waste Services administration building open as some form of shelter past April, which would accommodate another 150 people. 

And the Assembly is considering one more concept to offer tiny homes for 30 to 45 people as temporary, transitional shelters. The small business Restorative and Reentry Services is asking for a $500,000 grant to try that as a pilot program.

Rivera said that would leave 194 people, who are in emergency cold weather shelter now, with nowhere to go at the end of April. 

“But I think the more that we can take bites out of this apple, the better,” he said. “And I think this appropriation helps us to do that in a significant way, so that come next summer, we don’t have the kind of chaos that we’ve seen the last couple of summers.” 

As presented Friday, the tiny home concept was not fleshed out enough for other key Assembly members to support it. 
A resolution to authorize the grants for the coalition’s Next Step pilot and the tiny homes are up for public hearing and vote at the Assembly’s meeting on Tuesday.

Jeremy Hsieh covers Anchorage with an emphasis on housing, homelessness, infrastructure and development. Reach him at or 907-550-8428. Read more about Jeremy here.

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