The Anchorage Assembly on Tuesday postponed a quarter-million-dollar appropriation to stand up the former Golden Lion hotel as housing for the homeless.
That measure, along with a lease agreement with the nonprofit likely to run the facility, had been requested by the mayor’s office. They will now go to a final vote July 25.
During discussion on the measure, several Assembly members stressed that they have been pushing for years to open the facility to help meet the city’s urgent homelessness needs. But they also pointed out major unanswered questions about how the site will operate and the process undertaken by the Bronson administration to get it open.
One issue that emerged in discussions is that the nonprofit tentatively set to run the facility, Henning Inc., plans to start moving tenants into rooms as early as next week, before the Assembly has the chance to approve a formal lease agreement.
“I have a lot of heartburn about occupancy starting before the lease,” said Assembly Vice Chair Meg Zaletel.
She also expressed discomfort that based on the limited information available about the kinds of services that will be provided to tenants, the program appears to resemble an assisted-living facility, which would fall under strict state licensure requirements. She also raised liability issues about moving vulnerable tenants into a city-owned building without a lease in place.
Zaletel pushed a motion to delay an appropriation for $250,000 so there would be an opportunity for members to further review plans in an upcoming committee meeting.
“I like expediency and I like urgency, but it’s really important we follow our own rules,” Zaletel said.
The Bronson administration said it had issued a short-term use agreement through the real estate department, essentially a mechanism to allow Henning to begin operating the facility for up to 60 days while awaiting a lease.
“We do not believe a postponement of this vote will delay the opening of the Golden Lion. We’re at full steam ahead,” said city homeless coordinator Alexis Johnson.
While several members expressed dismay that major operational and procedural questions were not finalized, most voiced support for getting the 80 prospective beds inside the former hotel online as housing in the weeks ahead.
“We all feel the rush, and the rush is ‘Let’s get it done,’” Assembly Chair Chris Constant said ahead of the vote to postpone. “But my request is: Let’s get it done right.”
The Golden Lion emerged as a flashpoint in city politics in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown and the protests that organized against them. Though the city bought the Golden Lion as part of the voter-approved sale of the Municipal Light and Power utility in 2019, it was one of a handful of buildings then-Mayor Berkowitz’s administration planned to acquire and convert into shelters, housing and treatment facilities, financed in part with federal pandemic relief money. Mayor Dave Bronson campaigned on a platform that included selling the Golden Lion.
Bronson dropped his opposition this winter and has since supported bringing housing in the building online. At an April media conference with members of the Assembly, the administration announced the Golden Lion would soon be opened to tenants, but that was ultimately delayed in the absence of an operating agreement with a third party to run the site.
The Assembly also approved spending $479,000 to fix water damage to a portion of the Golden Lion’s exterior caused last winter by a burst pipe.