More than 130 homeless people in Anchorage now have permanent housing after a deal was struck last week to permanently turn a former downtown hotel into a low-income workforce and housing complex with support services. The city began using the building as an emergency homeless shelter and quarantine site early in the pandemic, and for the past few months it has been used as transitional housing for homeless residents.
The long-awaited sale of the former GuestHouse Inn to a local non-profit organization was finalized on September 12. Its residents are now in the midst of a change as the property transforms into a private, operated housing scheme, after two years of operation. by the city.
A majority of people who lived in the former transitional shelter as homeless clients will now be tenants, renting out their rooms with the support of housing assistance and housing vouchers. The remaining vacancies are filled by other homeless people who move in after staying elsewhere.
The GuestHouse purchase is the second major piece of a multi-part plan to address homelessness in Anchorage that has come to fruition, which Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration and the Assembly agreed to nearly one year.
This plan was conceptualized last year during a long negotiation that resulted from a series of acrimonious disagreements between city officials over a long-term strategy to reduce homelessness and to remove sites of COVID-19 era emergency accommodation.
Negotiations broke down in June, but several elements of the plan are still ongoing. The recent conversion of the former Sockeye Inn into a complex care homeless shelter was the first completed. The city is also building a shelter and navigation center in East Anchorage, another aspect of the plan, though funding for continued construction is currently shaky.
The purchase of GuestHouse has was funded by both private and public funds, largely through the Rasmuson Foundation and the city, which were passed on through a separate nonprofit entity, First Presbyterian Anchorage LLC, which now owns the property. Reverend Matt Shultz, pastor of Anchorage First Presbyterian Church, said his affiliated nonprofit operates separately from the church, which receives no funding from the project, and there are no religious requirement in the housing complex, and no resident is questioned about religious beliefs.
It will be operated by the same groups currently running the city’s last COVID-era shelter at the Aviator Hotel, said Bob Doehl, senior fellow at the Rasmuson Foundation. The managing partners of Aviator’s ownership group, former Senator Mark Begich and former Alaska Revenue Commissioner Sheldon Fisher, will oversee the ownership of the hotel with their MASH LLC group. Henning, Inc., a nonprofit homeless service that operates the Aviator Shelter, will provide support to residents living at the GuestHouse.
Rasmuson has been a key partner in moving the project forward, Schultz said.
Completing the project puts to rest fears shared by Assembly members and homeless service providers that people staying there would lose their shelter if part of the complex deal fails. Their doubts intensified over the summer as the sale’s closing date approached and issues delayed the city’s promised $3.4 million in funding for the $7.8 million purchase. dollars, nearly canceling the project.
“I thought it was a very, very complicated deal with so much funding coming from a variety of sources, and each of those sources has its own very complicated process. And often that involves what I consider to be very understandable hesitation. to put their money on the table, if others haven’t as well,” Shultz said. “It took a lot of loyalty from all parties to be able to say, ‘Yeah, we’re going to go for it. and make things happen here”, and then others join in. There was a time, of course, when the municipality was the last to bet to the table, so to speak. But luckily it worked . »
[No place to go: Anchorage’s homeless shelter capacity has been pushed to the brink]
Schultz said the conversion of the GuestHouse into housing achieves shared goals “across the political divide” between the moderate-to-liberal majority in the Assembly and the conservative Bronson administration: It allows a large group of people to get out directly from homelessness and costs much less than providing emergency shelter for the same number of people, saving taxpayers money, he said.
Those experiencing homelessness “are our beloved brothers and sisters and they deserve the dignity of a home,” Schultz said. “Not just an overnight shelter, not just a tent, but a real home where they are safe, warm, dry and healthy. of which they can be proud. Just by being human beings, they deserve all of this.
Although Bronson officials and Assembly members agreed to move forward with the project, the Anchorage Health Department did not proceed, within the time frame set by other city officials. city, a lengthy process to acquire federal grant funds provided for housing and urban development for the purchase of the hotel. . This left the city without the funds it needed to meet the August closing deadline, putting the sale in jeopardy.
The Assembly then voted in late July to instead spend a portion of its American Rescue Plan Act federal funds on the project, paying $3.4 million in a grant to First Presbyterian Anchorage to ensure the purchase of the GuestHouse. The Bronson administration released the money just in time for the scheduled closing date at the end of August.
After clearing several other financial, insurance and real estate law hurdles over the past few weeks, the deal was finally closed, Schultz said.
With 130 units, some of which will be shared through roommate agreements, the housing project offers a chance for dozens of single adults “ready for work” or already working without shelter, to develop a stable rental history. and stabilize in a safe place. , Schultz said.
“It’s so difficult to find a place to rent even if you’re currently housed and fully employed,” Schultz said. “You have to show your rental history and have money to pay first, last and deposit, and who could do that when you’re homeless? It’s impossible.”
The Assembly in August provided about an additional $11.9 million in federal assistance to Rasmuson to pursue similar projects, and the philanthropic organization is currently exploring other hotels for possible purchase and conversion into housing for low-income people with these funds.
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