After years of contention, former Anchorage hotel to open as housing with Assembly approval

The Anchorage Assembly has taken the final steps to open the former Golden Lion hotel as housing for roughly 80 vulnerable people who might otherwise be homeless.

In two 10-1 votes Tuesday, Assembly members approved a lease agreement with social service provider Henning Inc. and allocated the organization $250,000 to help cover startup costs like essential equipment and staffing.

The measures were the last hurdles to bringing in tenants, who will pay monthly rent on converted hotel rooms in the building, which has sat largely vacant for several years.

“This is part of the plan to place people who are unhoused into permanent shelter and allow them to access services they need to be successful,” Mayor Dave Bronson told reporters Tuesday.

The target population is people with significant mobility issues who need assistance with daily activities. The plan is to draw on clients at a different program, the Complex Care facility run by Catholic Social Services, who have stabilized and are able to handle a longer-term supportive housing arrangement.

“It’s basically to decompress the Complex Care facility at the former Sockeye (Inn), and to move people through the pipeline to get them into housing,” said the city’s housing and homeless coordinator, Alexis Johnson.

[Bronson proposes giving plane tickets to Anchorage’s homeless this winter to prevent deaths from exposure]


The lease agreement with Henning gives the organization access to the city-owned building for one year at a cost of $1. Henning will cover additional expenses like security, maintenance and utilities.

“The Administration considers this use to be for a public purpose beneficial to the MOA and the community. Henning meets the criteria for a less than fair market value lease,” said an administration memorandum submitted to the Assembly.

The lone no vote against the two measures came from Assembly Vice Chair Meg Zaletel, who represents Midtown and is also executive director of the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness. Zaletel raised concerns about Henning’s record managing homelessness programs. The organization was one of the groups that managed operations at Sullivan Arena during its time as a mass homeless shelter, and in spring 2023 concerns brought to Assembly members about conditions prompted the hiring of a third-party consultant to help with management.

The Golden Lion was purchased with funds from the sale of Anchorage’s power utility to Chugach Electric Association, which voters approved in 2018. The money was specifically intended to be used for more alcohol and drug treatment capacity in the municipality. But those plans ran headlong into the COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying lockdown measures, which saw a protracted backlash against local government spending on homelessness and social services at a time when many businesses were unable to operate.

Bronson campaigned for mayor on a platform that included ending plans to purchase buildings for use as treatment and homeless facilities, including the Golden Lion. Earlier this year his stance shifted and he endorsed plans to bring housing units online in the former hotel.

Johnson said that Henning was planning to move clients into the building Thursday.

Zachariah Hughes

Zachariah Hughes covers Anchorage government, the military, dog mushing, subsistence issues and general assignments for the Anchorage Daily News. He also helps produce the ADN's weekly politics podcast. Prior to joining the ADN, he worked in Alaska’s public radio network, and got his start in journalism at KNOM in Nome.