Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson has vetoed an Assembly resolution that suspended normal rules for city contracts in order to issue $900,000 in emergency rental assistance funds directly to a local for-profit company so it could quickly secure housing for homeless individuals.
The mayor’s veto comes as the city seeks to shut down its pandemic-era mass care operations by the end of June and find housing or shelter for hundreds of homeless individuals staying at Sullivan Arena and in hotel rooms the city has used for non-congregate sheltering.
Bronson, in his veto of the Assembly’s resolution, said he believes the city should put the funds through its regular competitive bid process to choose an organization to receive the funds and operate the program.
“I have no issue with dispersing these funds,” Bronson said in a statement about the veto, which he issued Thursday. “I am opposed to such a large amount of tax payer dollars being given out in a sole source contract.”
Usually, the city solicits bids from multiple companies or nonprofits before choosing one, rather than giving a direct, or sole-source, contract to a hand-picked organization. The usual contract process takes several weeks or even months.
Some other city officials and those involved in Anchorage’s mass care exit strategy say the mayor’s veto will delay finding housing for some homeless individuals for several weeks or longer. It will make meeting the June 30 deadline more difficult, but not impossible, they said.
The exit strategy is an agreement outlining how to shut down mass care and expand longer-term homeless services negotiated between the Assembly and the Bronson administration.
“We’re trying to house people. We’re in the middle of a crisis. We don’t need to play it safe,” said Assembly member Felix Rivera, who is part of the negotiation group working on the exit plan with the administration and chair of the Committee on Housing and Homelessness. Rivera had urged Assembly members to approve the contract at a special meeting last week.
A spokesman for the mayor’s office said by email that “the Mayor is confident that the Administration, the Anchorage Assembly, and our community partners will be able to work to help individuals who are homeless.”
99 Plus One, the company that was slated to receive the emergency rental assistance money in the Assembly’s resolution, has been operating the city’s mass care homeless shelter at Sullivan Arena and is helping run another housing site at a hotel.
That’s the reason that the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development’s disaster technical assistance team suggested 99 Plus One for the contract, Meg Zaletel, executive director of the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness and a Midtown Assembly member, told members before they voted 7-3 in favor of approving the resolution. (Zaletel did not vote.)
“They also work closely with all of the case managers that we’re working with in those facilities and attend case conferencing that’s facilitated by the coalition,” Zaletel said at the meeting.
The $900,000 amount would cover costs of about 50 housing units for one year, including money for rent, landlord incentives, security deposits, application fees and moving costs, said Terria Ware, an administrator with the coalition. Those units would house small families, couples and individuals, she said.
Ware said she understands the mayor’s desire for transparency with the funds, but that a sole-source contract would have allowed the work to begin immediately.
The coalition is spearheading the effort to shut down the Sullivan Arena shelter by June 30, and the municipality so far has closed three of its non-congregate shelter sites at hotels such as the Sockeye Inn. Only the Aviator Hotel is currently being used for mass care, Ware said.
Zaletel recently enlisted the help of HUD’s disaster technical assistance, which has bolstered the city’s efforts to find permanent housing for people who had been staying in hotel rooms.
Rivera said he is frustrated by the mayor’s veto because the city needs to act quickly, and it will take two to four weeks longer to get the money out using the competitive bid process. Once allocated, much of the $900,000 will be used secure housing units, pay for security deposits or any other roadblock to getting homeless individuals into housing, he said.
“Anything we can do to house people is critical to the success of the mass care exit strategy,” Rivera said. “What the mayor did frustrates that ability to achieve success -- it doesn’t necessarily terminate it, it’s just going to take us longer now.”
It is highly unlikely the Assembly can vote to override the mayor’s veto because the members need a supermajority of eight votes. The resolution was passed with only seven affirmative votes. (Assembly members Jamie Allard, Kevin Cross and Randy Sulte, conservatives friendly to Bronson’s agenda, voted against it.)
Zaletel, who recently took a permanent position as the coalition’s executive director after serving as its interim director, did not vote on items related to the exit strategy last week.
In her capacity at the coalition, Zaletel plays a key role in implementing the strategy and advising city officials on homelessness. The coalition is a nonprofit and is not receiving city funding for its work on the exit strategy.
Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance said Zaletel has been consulting with the city’s ethics attorney and Assembly counsel on situations where she may have a conflict of interest between her job at the coalition and voting on homelessness items. The Assembly handles potential conflicts of interest with “an abundance of caution,” LaFrance said.
In February, city leaders announced the ambitious timeline to end Sullivan operations and began fast-tracking several projects in a scramble to implement the exit strategy negotiated between the Bronson administration and the Assembly. The strategy, passed unanimously by the Assembly, is the result of a monthslong, ongoing negotiation process, after the Assembly scuttled a previous Bronson proposal to construct a 450-person temporary shelter in East Anchorage.
The Assembly at the same special meeting last week postponed voting on a new version of the proposed East Anchorage shelter and homeless services navigation center after making several changes, including limiting its size to 150 beds with a surge capacity of 50 more. The members are slated to vote on $6.2 million in funding to build the proposed shelter at their regular meeting next Tuesday.