Assembly delays decision on East Anchorage homeless shelter and navigation center

The Anchorage Assembly on Tuesday postponed for two months a decision to appropriate millions of dollars for a controversial 150-bed homeless shelter and navigation center that has been pushed by Mayor Dave Bronson.

Members who agreed with the delay said they needed a better understanding of the potential funding sources and costs for the project near Tudor and Elmore roads in East Anchorage.

Some Assembly members signaled that the shelter won’t be built this winter but that other shelter options may be possible for Anchorage’s approximately 600 homeless people, including hotels or reopening Sullivan Arena.

The delay came just days after the Assembly agreed to pay nearly $2.5 million to settle a dispute with a contractor over construction work completed last year after the Bronson administration authorized the work without receiving the required Assembly approval.

With the closing of the Sullivan Arena shelter in May, the municipality is no longer operating a permanent, low-barrier emergency shelter for the general homeless population. That’s pushed people who are homeless into encampments scattered across the city, with tents, campfires and trash often in plain sight.

Assembly member Felix Rivera, who chairs the Assembly’s Housing and Homelessness Committee, said Tuesday night the navigation center is part of an ongoing process to find permanent, year-round, low-barrier shelter for the homeless. The committee is set to hold several meetings to consider options under what Rivera called a “clean slate” approach.

“We should let that process play out,” he said.


He said the East Anchorage shelter couldn’t be opened until December, and it’s “fantasy land” to think any one shelter would stop all cold-weather homeless deaths. He said the Assembly won’t know until at least next month more about the financial picture needed to address the issue.

“Some of y’all might be tired of the talking and the planning, but the reality is this work needs to be done if we’re going to be successful this winter,” he said.

[Anchorage is considering setting up a sanctioned homeless camp with small, temporary shelters. Here’s how that might work.]

Assembly member Kevin Cross said he’s concerned that the idea is being studied to death.

“We own the land, we have the permits, we could do this,” he said.

But he voted to postpone the decision, recognizing it’s unlikely the shelter and navigation center will be built this winter.

“We will be opening the Sullivan Arena,” he said.

Some Assembly members said they don’t know how the proposed shelter and center will be paid for.

Community Development Director Lance Wilber said in a presentation last week that the estimated construction cost would be about $12.2 million. The administration’s housing and homelessness coordinator, Alexis Johnson, said the cost of operating the facility would be roughly $8 million per year, higher than previous administration estimates that ranged from $5 million to $6 million.

Assembly member Kameron Perez-Verdia said the navigation center is taking energy away from other options for winter housing, such as hotels.

“I think it’s really important that we’re clear that this is not a viable project this year,” he said. “I think a lot of what’s being done and said about this project is giving false hope to something that’s not going to happen.”

“There are other options,” Perez-Verdia said. “We saw that last winter, noncongregate housing was not the ideal but was a viable solution to get us through that period of time. That’s something we should be considering moving forward.”

The Assembly approved delaying an appropriation decision until the Aug. 22 meeting, with three members dissenting: Randy Sulte, Scott Myers and Zac Johnson.

Johnson said he wants an accurate estimate of the cost. He said the Assembly doesn’t know at this point if it has the money to pay for the project.

He said he doesn’t want to see a project that gets partially completed, only to find there’s no more money to finish the job.

Johnson doesn’t support a delay until Aug. 22 — that’s too late, he said. Voting on it then will push the project too late into the construction season, preventing it from being completed this winter, Johnson said.

Alex DeMarban

Alex DeMarban is a longtime Alaska journalist who covers business, the oil and gas industries and general assignments. Reach him at 907-257-4317 or