JUNEAU — Alaska's capital city has a way of warping perspectives during the annual legislative session. By the end of 90 days — or twice that long last year — the 14-hour workdays and takeout for breakfast, lunch and dinner can start to feel normal.

So it is with accommodations. Cramped, dimly lit, barely furnished apartments and rooms end up as prizes in a sometimes-frantic hunt for housing that involves hundreds of people — lobbyists, legislators and their aides — in one of the country's smallest capitals.

It's a little like college graduates looking for cheap apartments in Manhattan, if Manhattan were cut off from the road system and all its subways removed.

Many people moving to Juneau leave behind their families and homes; others make do without cars and share close quarters with strangers.

The spaces inhabited by the players in Alaska's annual political drama range from full homes to hotel rooms, apartments to boats. Here's a tour of a handful of them.

Bert Stedman

Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, lives on his boat in Harris Harbor while the Legislature is in session in Juneau. Stedman has traveled on his boat throughout his district while campaigning in Southeast Alaska. (Marc Lester / Alaska Dispatch News)
Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, lives on his boat in Harris Harbor while the Legislature is in session in Juneau. Stedman has traveled on his boat throughout his district while campaigning in Southeast Alaska. (Marc Lester / Alaska Dispatch News)

Bert Stedman has wrangled capital budgets and mastered Alaska's byzantine oil-tax policy. But after 13 years as a state senator, the Sitka Republican still hasn't figured out a way to stay warm.

Stedman, 60, lives in a cavernous sportfishing yacht in Harris Harbor near downtown Juneau, outfitted with half-a-dozen electric heaters.

On cold days, he has to work to keep the pipes from freezing, which one year meant missing former Gov. Sean Parnell's State of the State address.

"He thought I snubbed him," Stedman said. "But I thought a shower for the senator was more valuable than his speech."

Stedman spent his first year in the Senate, 2003, in a Juneau apartment before deciding to bring his boat to town.

It's a 52-foot-long Hatteras Sportfish — purchased two decades ago from a Newport Beach, California, proctologist, for a little more than $400,000. It was built in 1984, making it five years older than Sitka Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, one of the two House members from Stedman's Senate district.

The boat, Pioneer, is named for the family's long history in Alaska. It's detailed with afrormosia, a tropical teak wood, and fishing poles hang from the ceiling.

"We consider it like the RV on the water," said Stedman's wife, Lureen, who was drinking a beer and watching Bill O'Reilly one night early in the legislative session.

Lureen is usually in Sitka. When she's gone, Stedman says he relishes the solitude onboard after busy days at the Capitol.

"In this business, when they come to see you, it's not because they like you or they think you're funny," he said. "It's nice to try to separate yourself from that."

Administration team

Grace Jang, communications director for the governor’s office, checks out the view from the deck of the Behrends House. The house, just a block from the Capitol, was donated to the state last year by the Juneau Community Foundation. Jang shares the house with others on the governor’s staff.  (Marc Lester / Alaska Dispatch News)
Grace Jang, communications director for the governor’s office, checks out the view from the deck of the Behrends House. The house, just a block from the Capitol, was donated to the state last year by the Juneau Community Foundation. Jang shares the house with others on the governor’s staff.  (Marc Lester / Alaska Dispatch News)

Some members of Gov. Bill Walker's executive staff describe each other as family — and that was before a few of them moved in together. For the legislative session, several of Walker's Anchorage-based employees are sharing the Behrends House — an expansive home a block from the Capitol that was donated to the state last year by the Juneau Community Foundation.

Scott Kendall, Walker's new chief of staff, lives in the apartment above the garage. Grace Jang and Katie Marquette, two members of Walker's press team, moved into the main home, where they've been joined for the past two weeks by Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth.

Lobbyists could have gone one-stop shopping earlier this month at Costco, which one day was the site of a trip by Lindemuth, Jang, Marquette, and Valerie Davidson — Walker's health commissioner, who drove.

"We all pile into one car," Jang said.

The Legislature was offered the house before Walker's office, but lawmakers turned it down, saying they didn't want to expand government during a budget crisis. But Walker's administration says they're saving money with the new home.

The state last year spent more than $23,000 on lodging for three of Walker's aides during the legislative session, according to Jang. As many as five administration staffers will stay this year at the Behrends House, which costs $27,000 annually to maintain, Jang said.

They receive a per diem between $30 and $60 to cover meals and incidentals.

Jang, who like Marquette has a husband in Anchorage, lived in the Baranof hotel last year — an experience she described, diplomatically, as "not homey."

They describe their new home as softening the edges of what can sometimes be a trying assignment.

"It makes being away from everything a little more comfortable," Marquette said.

Ivy Spohnholz

Rep. Ivy Spohnholz rents an apartment across the bridge from Juneau in the town of Douglas. The Anchorage representative’s family stays in Anchorage while she’s in Juneau, but her husband left her a message on the mirror during a recent visit. (Marc Lester / Alaska Dispatch News)
Rep. Ivy Spohnholz rents an apartment across the bridge from Juneau in the town of Douglas. The Anchorage representative’s family stays in Anchorage while she’s in Juneau, but her husband left her a message on the mirror during a recent visit. (Marc Lester / Alaska Dispatch News)

When she's in Juneau, Ivy Spohnholz is more than 500 miles away from her family in Anchorage. But in her basement apartment in Douglas, across the Gastineau Channel from the Capitol, her husband and daughters feel close by.

They're inside the digital picture frame they gave her, which is filled with thousands of family photos. A message from her husband on the mirror, written in soap, reads: "I Love You."

Spohnholz, 44, was the Anchorage Democrat chosen by Walker to replace Rep. Max Gruenberg, who died suddenly in Juneau last year.

She won election in November and has embraced her new job. But it comes at a price — the time away from her family.

"They're my favorite people in the world," Spohnholz said. "And I don't get to be with them."

Spohnholz's apartment has a combined kitchen and living area, and a bedroom. Laundry is shared with others in the house.

She doesn't go out much at night and her space can be lonely, she said. But it's also a good fit for the self-described introvert.

"I love people," she said. "But after 12 hours, I'm done."

Spohnholz's husband road-tripped to Juneau with her and left behind a week's worth of meals in the freezer. She brings folders of "homework" back from the Capitol, and indulges in the occasional Netflix episode.

When Spohnholz's mother, Ann, briefly served in the Legislature and long-distance telephoning was expensive, her family had to schedule calls ahead of time. Now, Spohnholz talks with her husband and at least one of her daughters most days, and even used FaceTime to tune into a track meet.

"It's not the same as being there," Ivy Spohnholz said. "But it's better than it used to be."

Michelle Sparck

Michelle Sparck, an aide for Rep. Zach Fansler of Bethel, said the basement apartment she rents has just one room and a very tiny bathroom, but she was thrilled to find it after looking at some less appealing options in Juneau. (Marc Lester / Alaska Dispatch News)
Michelle Sparck, an aide for Rep. Zach Fansler of Bethel, said the basement apartment she rents has just one room and a very tiny bathroom, but she was thrilled to find it after looking at some less appealing options in Juneau. (Marc Lester / Alaska Dispatch News)

Michelle Sparck didn't find out she'd be working in Juneau until less than a week before the start of the session.

"I had three days to pack and get my house in order," said Sparck, an aide to Bethel Democratic Rep. Zach Fansler.

The first place she found, in Douglas, turned out not to be suitable: The owner was using Sparck's room to raise a litter of puppies.

That set off a scramble for a replacement. After a night in a hotel room with a friend, Sparck, through her sister, learned of a one-room basement apartment two blocks from the Capitol, and she agreed to the lease as soon as she saw it.

Much of the space is taken up by the bed. There's no stove — just a hot plate. Then there's the cubby-sized bathroom, which Sparck describes as an airplane lavatory with a shower.

None of this presents a problem.

"It's perfect, I think," she said.

Sparck, a former aide to U.S. Rep. Don Young and the late U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, grew up in Bethel and Chevak. She still spends time there in the summer but now lives in New Jersey with her husband and two children.

After moving into her place, Sparck subsisted on food from the legislative cafeteria until she could provision her place with a Costco run. She picked up a slow-cooker at the Salvation Army and her landlords gave her a toaster and coffee maker.

"It's adorable," she said. "It's my tiny, little apartment."

Joe Hayes

Lobbyist Joe Hayes, of Fairbanks, stays at the Driftwood Hotel during the legislative session. It’s furnished, it’s close to the Capitol and works for him just fine, he said. (Marc Lester / Alaska Dispatch News)
Lobbyist Joe Hayes, of Fairbanks, stays at the Driftwood Hotel during the legislative session. It’s furnished, it’s close to the Capitol and works for him just fine, he said. (Marc Lester / Alaska Dispatch News)

Lobbyist Joe Hayes describes his room at the Driftwood Hotel, down the hill from the Capitol, as a bargain.

For $800 a month, Hayes gets a kitchen, a bed, a TV, thick cinderblock walls and a leather couch that "reeks of single guy."

"Everything here's theirs. All I had to do is come, bring my clothes," said Hayes, who shares a name with a former Alaska House speaker. "This is like a hidden gem."

The legislative session is a boon to the Juneau hotel business — another hot spot is the Baranof, which was infamously bugged by the FBI as part of its Veco investigation.

At the Driftwood, the rooms are good enough for Hayes and an array of legislative staffers, lobbyists and reporters, along with lawmakers like Mike Chenault, the Republican from the Kenai Peninsula who served as House speaker until recently.

The bowling alley — home to a legislative league — is across the street. And there's a grocery store around the corner.

Just don't count on reliable warm water. Problems with the Driftwood's boiler have made hot showers tough to come by since the start of the session, with another lobbyist saying he's had one in 11 days.

Hayes, 46, is a former Democratic legislator from Fairbanks with a $5,000-a-month contract with an electric cooperative. He's single and brings just a few of his own things — a Baltimore Ravens bedspread and a Nintendo Wii, which he uses for its workout program.

"This is my gym, my house," Hayes said. "It's a little bit of everything."

Randy Hoffbeck

Randy Hoffbeck, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Revenue, who lives in Eagle River when he’s not in Juneau, lives on his boat during the legislative session. He said he looked for housing in Juneau for months before buying the boat. (Marc Lester / Alaska Dispatch News)
Randy Hoffbeck, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Revenue, who lives in Eagle River when he’s not in Juneau, lives on his boat during the legislative session. He said he looked for housing in Juneau for months before buying the boat. (Marc Lester / Alaska Dispatch News)

A few slips down the dock from Stedman's boat is Randy Hoffbeck's 38-foot Bayliner, which he picked up from a broker for $49,000.

Hoffbeck, 59, is Gov. Bill Walker's revenue commissioner, and has been one of the top officials tasked with getting a deficit-reduction package through the Legislature. His boat, perhaps appropriately, is called For Pete's Sake.

Hoffbeck was retired when Walker, who had just won a long-shot bid for governor, asked him to come back to work in 2014.

He hunted for a house for three months before settling on the Bayliner. It's tucked into a corner of the harbor — a quiet refuge at the end of long days that usually begin with a 5:30 a.m. trip to the gym.

"I wouldn't want to live anywhere else," Hoffbeck said.

Hoffbeck's home is in Eagle River; his wife will visit Juneau a few times during the session. In between, it's a spare existence.

"The kitchen gets used a lot when my wife is here," Hoffbeck said. "The microwave gets used a lot when she's not."

Inside the cabin, there's a neglected guitar, a few books, and a fake parrot that came from the previous owner.

There's also a television, which Hoffbeck said he used periodically to watch "Gavel to Gavel," the Legislature's public access program, during last year's endless special session.

Walker hasn't been aboard yet.

"I imagine some time before I leave, the governor and his security will pile on," Hoffbeck said.