Assembly lends support to vets’ housing proposal

Friday, June 1, 2018 - 19:57

A long-dreamed-of plan to bring a veterans’ housing facility to the Chugiak-Eagle River area has received the endorsement of the Anchorage Assembly — with the caveat developers work in tandem with local residents.

At its May 8 meeting, the assembly unanimously approved a resolution of support for the concept of Vet’s Village, a housing project first proposed in 2009 that would house as many as 100 homeless veterans on property off Hiland Road in Eagle River. The proposed village (which would eventually include a two-story building and as many as 75 cabins), has yet to receive funding or land, but the assembly’s support is the latest in a long list of government and private agencies who have signed on in support of the concept.

“We’re about halfway on a project that we hope to finish as soon as possible,” Alaska Veterans Foundation director Russ Kell told the assembly.

The project has been in the planning stage for seven years, but the selection of a site near Hiland Road is new and likely to get the attention of nearby residents. The foundation is working with the Alaska Mental Health Trust to try to obtain property currently owned by the U.S. Department of Defense as part of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson for the project. The land is located roughly between the Glenn Highway and Hiland Road on the opposite side of the highway from the Anchorage Landfill.

According to a feasibility report, the Vet’s Village concept would start with a main building, 25 living units and five cabins. It would house previously homeless veterans, who would be required to work in order to live at the village. The initial startup cost would be roughly $9 million, with operational costs after that coming from federal grants and a percentage of residents’ wages. The group has yet to identify funding, but says the project will pay for itself by getting homeless veterans off the streets.

In its resolution supporting the project, the assembly acknowledged the high cost of homelessness, citing figures showing each homeless person costs taxpayers between $80,000 and $100,000 per year. If the project becomes reality, that could mean an annual savings of as much as $10 million per year.

But the location of the facility could prove contentious. It’s relatively near neighborhoods on Hiland Road and Yosemite Drive, and Amy Demboski said she believes folks in those areas need to have input on any housing facility in the area. To that end, she added a friendly amendment to the resolution that mandates the Alaska Veterans Foundation keep locals in the loop.

“I would highly encourage you and your group to reach out to the South Fork Community Council,” she said. “It’s a very astute and very … engaged community council and so they’re going to want to be a part of this collaborative process as this project moves forward.”

During brief remarks to the assembly, Kell promised the group would make sure that happens.

“I assure you we’ll be able to do that,” he said.

Eagle River Valley Community Council president Karl von Luhrte said the group knows little about proposal. The council — which only heard about the project May 7 — doesn’t meet again until September, but von Luhrte said he’d certainly like to know more about the foundation’s designs for the area.

“I’m curiously waiting,” he said Monday.

The council can’t take a position until it knows more, he said. However, in an email he pointed out the area is heavily populated with veterans and stressed the Eagle River Valley strongly supports veterans.

“We look forward to the promised additional information and discussing the Vet Village concept at our next meeting on 6 September,” he wrote.

In an interview May 17, foundation president Ric Davidge said he’s had follow-up conversations with the council and is hoping to meet with its members in the near future.

“Any community council that wants to meet with us, we will meet with them,” said Davidge, who pointed out he’s been to dozens of community council meetings over the seven years he’s been working on the project.

Davidge said he’s eagle to work alongside neighbors to ensure the project is a success.

“I like community councils because, frankly, we learn a lot from community councils,” he said.

To read more about the proposed Vets Village project, visit the group online at alaskaveteransfoundation.com.

Contact Star editor Matt Tunseth at 257-4274 or email [email protected]

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