Anchorage drops homeless housing plan near airport

ANCHORAGE — Anchorage has abandoned plans to acquire surplus federal land near its main airport for housing people who are homeless or could become homeless.

Mayor Dan Sullivan said Monday that he withdrew his proposal because the price tag could have reached $80 million.

“Quite frankly, it’s the sticker shock,” he told more than 175 people gathered for a meeting of the Sand Lake Community Council, a neighborhood advisory group. “The scale of it is beyond what we considered to be affordable.”

The proposal took neighbors by surprise when it was announced last week. Catherine Burke said she opposed the project despite plans for a wooded buffer and 24-hour security.

“Every facility, including Alcatraz, has people escape,” she said.

The 66-acre development would have been known as Raspberry Court. The first phase, scheduled for completion in 2017, would have consisted of housing for 96 residents and structures for other services. Additional housing was planned for the future.

Supporters of the proposal included the Southcentral Foundation, Cook Inlet Tribal Council, Anchorage Community Mental Health Services and the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority. Sullivan met with the groups before the community council meeting Monday.

“No one could really identify: How are we going to pay for this facility, and how can we sustain it going forward?” Sullivan told the council.

However, Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority CEO Jeff Jessee said the decision to halt work on Raspberry Court had not been a consensus, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

“There was a recognition that yes, the funding — both of the capital and the service dollars — would be a challenge,” he said. “Everyone understood that and were quite frank with the mayor about that. But then also realize that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Anchorage Assemblyman Ernie Hall said residents should consider how the city can help people who will spend the night in a car, box or alley.

“It’s not necessarily anything that any of us are excited about,” he said. “But the question that we’ve got to ask ourselves (is): If not in my neighborhood, then where? Where are we going to provide facilities to help these people?”

The state Department of Transportation submitted a competing proposal for the surplus land previously used by the Federal Communications Commission. The state-owned Ted Stevens International Airport wants to use it as a buffer between the airport and the city.

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