Anchorage homeless rental program gets $1.5M boost

North Wind Apartments with "Now Leasing" sign (for rent)
A “Now Leasing” sign is displayed at the North Wind Apartments in Fairview on Dec. 15, 2023. (Shiri Segal/Alaska Public Media)

A pilot project to secure apartments and supportive services for 150 people currently living in an Anchorage emergency cold weather shelter got a $1.5 million boost Tuesday night.

In a 10-1 vote, the Anchorage Assembly approved committing the money to the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness’ Next Step program and its goal to house 150 people by the end of April. The Assembly’s grant is one piece of the coalition’s $4.6 million campaign, modeled after work done in Houston, Texas, to dramatically reduce homelessness.

Felix Rivera is the Assembly’s lead on homelessness issues. Before the vote, he said that some people in Anchorage have lost faith that anything can be done about homelessness.

“Some folks are really getting tired and we need to do something big to give people, both housed and unhoused – really the entire community – hope that we can get this work done,” he said.

The program is intended to cover up to a full year of rent and utilities on a one-bedroom apartment, plus case managers making weekly visits and one-time costs like a security deposit and move-in expenses.

Assembly member Zac Johnson initially was concerned that the program might be counterproductive in Anchorage’s tight rental market. He feared it would further reduce available housing in the city, driving up rent and pricing out others.

But the Next Step program is targeting units that tend to be older and privately owned that aren’t typically on the market, said Jessica Parks, the coalition’s chief operating officer. Single-room occupancies are also a focus of the program, and those are often excluded from vacancy rate statistics, she said.

Parks also explained more about what case managers do after someone is moved into an apartment.

“So they’ll work with the initial needs assessment which was done with that client when they were still unsheltered or in shelter,” she said. “And then develop that housing stabilization plan, which could have goals related to income, could have goals related to health. It really is individualized at that point.”

That piece of the plan is aimed at ensuring long-term success, she said.

Assembly member Scott Myers was the only no vote, which he did not explain publicly. Assembly Vice Chair Meg Zaletel is the coalition’s executive director and recused herself due to a conflict of interest.

The city’s grant for the Next Step program is funded from Anchorage’s alcohol tax.

At its meeting Tuesday, the Assembly also set aside $500,000 in alcohol tax revenue for a potential tiny home, transitional shelter pilot project.

An earlier measure called for a specific operator with a specific type of portable shelter product for the concept.

After getting critical Assembly feedback, Rivera ditched that, and instead called for a competitive procurement process in the measure that passed, also in a 10-1 vote.

Those proposals will come back to the Assembly for approval.

Several Assembly members have said they prefer the city focus its efforts on permanent housing.

Right now, Rivera said, there are about 800 people in the city living in emergency winter shelters or unsheltered. The winter shelters are set to close at the end of April. In the short term, Rivera said the housing and labor market for support staff can’t accommodate that many people.

“If we want to see a less chaotic situation than last summer, which I think we do, then we need to get comfortable with, I think, other levers and ways to providing support to our population experiencing homelessness,” Rivera said.

a portrait of a man outside

Jeremy Hsieh covers Anchorage with an emphasis on housing, homelessness, infrastructure and development. Reach him atjhsieh@alaskapublic.orgor 907-550-8428. Read more about Jeremyhere.

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