The Anchorage Assembly on Thursday overrode several vetoes from Mayor Dave Bronson, reinstating federal relief funds it had directed to community projects. It also overrode Bronson’s veto of an Assembly resolution that called for a task force to come up with a plan to shelter hundreds of people experiencing homelessness this winter.
In the Assembly’s spending package of federal COVID-19 relief funds, Bronson had vetoed several items related to homelessness efforts. At a Thursday meeting, the Assembly voted to reinstate all funding for the projects, including millions for the purchase of a hotel or other buildings for low-income and supportive housing.
The back-and-forth comes as city officials scramble to stand up more shelter and housing before winter. An estimated 350 people live unsheltered in Anchorage, and shelter and housing programs are largely full, while walk-in, low-barrier shelter no longer exists.
Assembly restores funding for another hotel purchase
The Assembly passed the spending package earlier this month in a supermajority vote, allocating the city’s second and final round of federal COVID-19 relief dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act. Assembly members directed $51 million in federal relief to projects that prioritized long-term efforts to support housing, children and families, economic development and workforce development.
Bronson opposed spending that included $11.8 million to the Rasmuson Foundation to facilitate the purchase of the Aptel Hotel or other properties for conversion into low-income and supportive housing units.
Bronson said he would rather use the money to pay fuel costs for city vehicles. Several of the city’s departments have already exceeded fuel budgets for the year due to record-high gas and diesel prices. The mayor and his allies on the Assembly took issue with funding for a hotel purchase, saying that due diligence on the property and more information about a final property owner and operating plan were needed before funding is allocated.
In an 8 to 3 vote, Assembly members reinstated the funding to Rasmuson and $400,000 to the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness for a housing transition coordinator and funding to provide logistical help for people needing housing, such as help with transportation, fees for ID cards, birth certificates and rental applications. The coalition is a nonprofit that coordinates Anchorage’s homelessness prevention and response system and leads the implementation of the community’s homelessness plan.
Assembly member Meg Zaletel, who is the director of the coalition, recused herself from the vote. Assembly members Kevin Cross, Randy Sulte and Jamie Allard voted against the override.
Bronson had also rejected $400,000 that the Assembly had earmarked for Henning Inc. to provide transitional housing supportive services for homeless individuals living at the Aviator Hotel downtown.
In a 10 to 2 vote, the Assembly also reinstated funds to eight other projects, including $1.2 million to the Alaska Black Caucus for renovations and the creation of an equity center and $300,000 to Identity Inc. to increase staffing and expand Identity Health Clinic, which serves LGBTQ residents.
The Assembly also overrode Bronson’s veto of $771,091 for improvements at South Potter Marsh in a 10 to 2 vote. Members Jamie Allard and Zaletel voted against the override.
Assembly leadership, in a memorandum, said the package invests “once-in-a-lifetime ARPA funds in long-term projects that aid populations that need it most; address current, historical, and geographical inequities in our systems that have intensified due to COVID-19; and have a fair and positive impact across the municipality.”
“Not only do the mayor’s vetoes undervalue these community driven projects and invalidate the Assembly’s collaborative work, the mayor asserts that this valuable funding opportunity should be directed towards one-time municipal costs where other alternative funding options are available, instead of impactful investments that will shape the community for years to come,” Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance said.
Emergency winter shelter task force continuing work
The Assembly voted 10 to 1 to override the veto of a resolution passed at a special meeting last week. The resolution started a process to develop an emergency winter shelter plan, asking the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness to convene a task force of service providers, city agencies and other organizations. Allard voted against the override. Zaletel did not participate in the vote.
“This is probably the strangest veto that we’ve gotten so far,” said Assembly member Felix Rivera, who chairs the Committee on Housing and Homelessness.
Bronson, in his veto of that task force, argued that the Assembly had essentially created an official city advisory body while bypassing legally necessary procedures, and said that members of an advisory body must be appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the Assembly, per city charter.
Before the vote, Rivera said that regardless of the override outcome, the task force intends to continue meeting because they are “tired of the politics. They want to do the work.”
“The intent of the resolution was for us to work with the community, work with the administration and come up with suggestions for us to consider,” he said. “In no way does the resolution require or force the administration or Assembly to do anything the task force comes up with.”
Members passed the resolution after Bronson officials did not show up to a committee meeting on homelessness, during which Assembly members had expected the administration to present its own plans for emergency shelter.
When the Assembly passed the resolution, several members said the issue was too critical to take no action and that they could not rely on the Bronson administration to deliver a timely or effective plan.
At a Tuesday meeting, Bronson said he does have a plan. He said the city is looking at municipal properties for possible cold weather shelters and that the city is launching an application process for churches, homeless service providers and other organizations to run emergency shelters.
Other members said his announcement does not amount to a plan because it lacks specifics on important details such as shelter locations, sizes, operations and services.
[Correction: A previous version of the story incorrectly reported which Assembly member voted against overriding Bronson’s veto of funding for improvements at South Potter Marsh. It was member Meg Zaletel, not Randy Sulte.]