City seeks federal property near Kincaid Park for homeless housing

nherz@adn.comSeptember 25, 2013 

Anchorage city government is trying to obtain a 133-acre tract of surplus federal property next to the international airport and Kincaid Park, and is proposing that much of it be used for housing and support services for the city's homeless and people at risk of losing their homes.

The campus, which the city is calling "Raspberry Court," would include, initially, temporary and permanent housing for 96 people, a kitchen and dining room, a health center and an administrative building, with potential for additional development, the city said Wednesday in a written statement announcing the project.

The rest of the property would be used for city infrastructure -- a treatment facility for debris from Anchorage's storm drains, according to Ron Thompson, the city's director of public works.

The city and its network of nonprofits already have a substantial capacity for people in need of emergency shelter, said Britteny Matero, who's leading the Raspberry Court project as a manager at the city's Department of Health and Human Services. But a lack of cheap housing and the high cost of living in Anchorage make it difficult for homeless people to progress beyond short-term options like the Brother Francis Shelter, she said.

Some 6,700 people used Anchorage's emergency shelters or transitional housing in 2011, and only about 330 found a permanent home, according to the city's proposal for the surplus federal land.

"They just don't have a way to get out, once they're in," Matero said.

The disposal of the federal property, she added, is "a pretty amazing opportunity.

"It's not every day that there's surplus land that becomes available," said Matero.

The city is competing with the Alaska Department of Transportation, which filed its own application on behalf of Ted Stevens International Airport. The airport wants the land for expansion and to provide a buffer between its operations and the community, said Manager of Engineering John Johansen.

The property is being disposed of by the federal government's landlord, the General Services Administration, which puts a priority on uses that would assist the homeless.

The applications from the airport and the city are the only ones being considered, GSA spokeswoman Stephanie Kenitzer said in an email. She said the property was being reviewed, but added that the date of a transfer was "unknown at this time."

The city submitted two applications -- one for the public works project, and one for Raspberry Court.

The city developed the Raspberry Court plan through consultations with the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, the state's division of behavioral health, and organizations like the Cook Inlet Housing Authority and the Rasmuson Foundation, according to the proposal.

The campus would span 66 acres, with buildings on both sides of Raspberry Road. They would be connected by a footbridge over the road, Matero said.

The city would own the land, and lease it for $10 a year to another entity like the Mental Health Trust or the state, which would develop the property and manage its operations.

On the south side of the road, the campus would include housing for 96 people, which the city said would be built within three years of the land being transferred. Another 96 units could be constructed within 10 years.

The north side would have a dining area, plus a "wellness campus," which would offer substance-abuse treatment, counseling, physical rehabilitation, and other care. The services are designed to help both homeless people and people who are trying to keep from losing their homes -- as well as people in rural Alaska who could get treatment and counseling by teleconference.

The campus would be developed in what the city is calling a "phased approach," which could ultimately include more than 10 buildings within 10 years of a land transfer.

Alcohol would be banned from the property. Matero said that the city had not yet developed a plan for how chronic inebriates would access the campus, but she stressed that only a small portion of the city's homeless population suffered from substance abuse problems.

The city's plan calls for a 150-foot wooded buffer around the campus, and it's designed to give at least 450 feet of space between the proposed buildings and the nearest residential subdivision.

Matero said the city had been focused on preparing its proposal for the land, and had not yet discussed it with area residents.

"We've been so focused on putting the application together that that took up a huge chunk of time," she said.

She said her department would now move to engage the Sand Lake Community Council, as well as the rest of the city, to inform residents about the project.

Dan Burgess, the community council's president, said that he learned of the city's plans from the announcement Wednesday, and has a meeting scheduled with Mayor Dan Sullivan on Thursday afternoon.

In an interview, Burgess said he had many questions about the proposal.

"How are the people coming on the facility, or off the facility? Can they just wander off?" he asked. "Can they then just have the homeless people suddenly move off this facility, and move into Kincaid Park? That's the last thing we want to happen."

But Burgess added that if it was done right, the project could benefit the area, where he said local businesses had been suffering since the closure of nearby Kulis Air National Guard Base.

"If they're offering enough controlled entrance and exit, and it's kept up and looks good and it's secure, then, heck, it could be a boon," he said.

Burgess said he planned to ask the city to send a representative to Sand Lake's next community council meeting in early October.

"We're going to have, I'm sure, both sides present -- the pros, the cons, and then the community can weigh in," he said.

Reach Nathaniel Herz at nherz@adn.com or 257-4311.

 

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